Book Review: Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller

Review by Heather Benjamin

The next president of the United States won’t have a physics Ph.D.— but he will develop policy on physics-related matters.


In this election year, Muller, a professor at UC Berkeley, has put together a guide for the country’s incoming leader. But the purpose of the book is primarily to inform voters. Muller shares statistics and corrects misunderstandings relating to terrorism, energy, nuclear weapons, space and global warming.

Muller writes for the educated reader, not the physics expert. Readers, for example, might be surprised to learn that gasoline is one of the most useful weapons for terrorists: It is low-tech and easy to get, and one ton releases the explosive energy of 15 tons of TNT, Muller writes.

But the way Muller relates principles of physics to political policy will interest scientists as well. He explains that the explosive energy of fuel in a jet crashing into a building suggests leaders should focus on preventing terrorists from flying planes, rather than worrying that terrorists will create nuclear weapons.

Muller even-handedly acknowledges disagreements over interpretations of data. He writes that “global warming is real. It is very likely caused by humans.” But he also criticizes people who distort information for emotional impact.

If you’re seeking the basics or looking for policy suggestions based on sound scientific reasoning, this book offers enlightenment—whether you expect to one day be a world leader or not.

W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, 380 p., $26.95.

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