Sunday, March 3, 2024

Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland

Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland

by George Gamow

Twentieth Century physics became a little daunting to the layman, with with relativity and quantum theory and the Big Bang. George Gamow decided to make it a bit easier with his book, Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland.

He created Mr. Tompkins, a middle ages banker type who decides to attend a professors lectures on the newer concepts on physics of the age. The lecture is boring and Tompkins falls asleep and starts dreaming.

The dreams cover various topics. The professor is there to guide him by showing how things work. It starts out showing the expanding universe. The key is that the setup allows a minimum of lecture and shows the concept with concrete examples that are easy to grasp. Quantum theory is shown by the example of a pool room, where the balls move in quantum paths, so that they appear to be in multiple places as they move. 

Tomkins is not a deep character; he is there to ask questions that the professor can explain to him.Still there is some character development as Tompkins finally proposes to the professor's daughter.

Speed of Light

My favorite were two chapters where the speed of light is only 10 mph. Cars and bicycles contract as they try to go faster, but when on a train, the telephone poles along the tracks get closer together. They also show how tune dilation works.

The book was a hit, and soon other volumes followed.

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