Review of The Matchbox that Ate a 40 Ton Truck by Marcus Chown
This is a popular science book, showing how everyday observations are linked to insights into the fundamental structure of nature. Sometimes the connection between the observable world and the underlying physics is a bit of a stretch, but it makes for enjoyable and fascinating reading.
The title of the book comes from the phenomenon of photons scattered by electrons. It is as if an ocean wave were scattered by a pebble on the beach. Chown explains, in a non mathematical way, how this works, and along the way describes a good deal of quantum mechanics.
About half the book deals with quantum mechanics, and the other half with large scale phenomena: stars, galaxies, and the history of the universe. There are no equations anywhere in the book, and really very little in the way of mathematics of any kind: quite a feat, and I’m not wholly convinced it’s a good idea to leave mathematics out of even the broadest of popular science surveys. But I think that someone wholly unfamiliar with physics would come away with at least some understanding, and that’s probably enough to hope for.