Rather than beat around the bush, I’ll tell you what I thought of this year’s common reading book, Physics for Future Presidents by Richard A. Muller. I hated it.
If you’re looking for a positive review of the book, check out Caleb Palmquist’s review in the Orientation Edition of the Evergreen. This is not it.
Perhaps my criticism of the book is less of Muller’s writing and presentation of the subject, but of its selection for the Common Reading program itself. Unlike many of my fellow students, I adored Stones Into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. A longtime fan of Three Cups of Tea, I found the book relevant, interesting and inspiring.
That is until Jon Krakauer basically indicated that Mortenson is a giant jerk in his recent work, “Three Cups of Deceit.” But I digress.
Regardless whether Mortenson is a big jerk or not, the book read like a novel, a story with a greater global context. This one reads like a textbook, and I’m expecting most freshmen will enter the year with the book half finished.
We’re told this is a science book for non-science people. But look at two of the reviews on the cover. John Tierney calls the book “A marvelously readable and level-headed explanation of basic science and how it relates to the issues.” But the New York Times’ columnist biography reveals Tierney has written “extensively about science and technology.” Brian Clegg is a writer for Popular Science. I’m suspecting they’re science people.
I’m moreover troubled by the lack of focus in this book. I know it’s intended to be science presented in a political context, but the politics fail. I wish Muller had more consistently presented each side of debates, rather than rehash the same scientific points over and over. In the end, I feel that I’ve gained no further knowledge of science, why the issues are important or whether or not reading this book will, in fact, make me a better president. Another issue is the book was published in 2008. Obviously Muller can’t read the future, but his commentary on electric cars doesn’t account for current technology, such as the Nissan Leaf, making it a bit out of date for our modern standards.
I may have been more successful with the book if I’d read it as a textbook as I called it earlier, taking small bites one at a time, a chapter or two every few weeks, reading other, more interesting books in between. That's my recommendation for those of you who have yet to finish the book. Maybe my science teachers will prove me wrong and show me this book is, in fact, as awesome as Palmquist says it is in his review.
But at this point, the Common Reading directors will be hard pressed to prove to me that this book will establish a common ground for those of us who still left the book feeling as dizzy as we had taking a college level physics class.