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Physics of the Future, by Michio Kaku

By - August 31, 2011

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As part of my ongoing self-education – so as to not be a total moron while writing “What We Hath Wrought” – this past weekend I read “Physics of the Future” by Michio Kaku.

I was excited to read the book, because Kaku is a well regarded physicist, and that’s a field that I know will inform what’s possible, technologically, thirty or so years from now. I will admit I did not read the reviews of the book before hitting “purchase” on my Kindle. The topic alone made it worth my time, and the book was on the NYT bestseller list for five weeks, after all. Turns out, the book was worth the time….but perhaps I should have read the reviews so my expectations were more properly set.

I thought I was going to learn some fundamentals about what’s possible in the next few generations, and if you work hard enough, you will learn some of that. But the book reads more like a string of popular science articles meant for a *very* broad audience, and far less like a serious investigation of how physics might inform our world in the coming decades.

The New York Times’ review might sum it best (and I know, it’s a cliche to depend on the Times, but…it pretty much sums up my thoughts on the book):

“…Mr. Kaku thinks in numbers better than he thinks in words, which is a problem only in that he’s written a book and not a series of equations….This is not boring stuff, and it all somewhat makes me wish that I (born in 1965) were going to be around to witness it all. In terms of data delivery, “Physics of the Future” gets the job done. But airplane food gets the job done, too, and airplane food — bland and damp — is what Mr. Kaku’s prose too often resembles.”

Ouch. I hope I never get a review like that. But then again, I rarely think in numbers.

Kaku does not lack for ambition – he sets out to explain, in great detail, how we will live in 2100, and how we’ll get there. But he often uses the conditional tense, and swaps between “this might happen” to “this will certainly happen,” sometimes on the same page. It makes for a general lack of trust when it comes to whether or not you want to buy into his proclamations. He also leans heavily on a thesis he calls “The Cave Man Principle,” which, to simplify, says that we are still pretty much driven by the same impulses we had when we lived in caves. The idea gets old and is often used as a salve when the future starts to get hard to predict. He also loves to drop pop culture references – in particular to sci fi movies – as a way to explain how things might shape up. I’m not sure I’d want Hollywood to loom that large in *my* future…

Still, if you are looking for a relatively fast read that covers a lot of ground around flying cars, the Internet on contact lenses, and palm sized MRI machines, this book is worth a look, despite the sometimes artless prose. Better yet, however, I’d recommend you watch a few of Kaku’s television shows (he’s made a number of them for Discovery Channel, among others), and we’ve enjoyed watching those as a family.

I’m still reading Kevin’s “What Technology Wants,” which so far I’m really enjoying. Hope to write about that shortly.

Other books I’ve reviewed recently:

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

The Information by James Gleick

In the Plex by Steven Levy

The Future of the Internet (And How to Stop It) by Jonathan Zittrain

The Next 100 Years by George Friedman

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  • Patricia Tello

    A gesture worth more than a thousand worlds… In this case a title worth more than four hundred pages. Nice review! I agree.

  • Perrbo

    Yeah, unfortunately I had to put this book down.  But his earlier book Parallel Worlds is phenomenal, one of my favorite books of all time.  A great primer on cosmology, quantum physics, relativity, string theory (er uh etc) and how all these fields relate to one another; and then some super fun ideas on what the heck life is up to.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Perry. I shoulda read that one!