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Michio Kaku
The Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Doubleday / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-53080-4
Publication Date: 03-15-2011
396 Pages ; $28.95
Date Reviewed: 04-02-2011

Index:  Non-Fiction  Science Fiction

What makes us read? We're more immersed in more types of media now than ever before. Yet even those who habituate television and radio, those who haunt the Internet, take the time to write books. It's not easy. For many authors, it's not even fun.

But Michio Kaku is the sort of author who is having a blast every minute he's writing. You can feel his enthusiasm for the power of the written word, and this enthusiasm alone makes 'The Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100' a wonderful book to read.

Kaku feeds the reader's need for a passionate writer, an imaginative approach and an engaging, relevant subject. And yes, there is a story — our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live, as gods, a little less than ninety years hence. Kaku's book examines just how that will happen, and what it will mean.

Kaku's introduction sets the reader's expectations — the sky's not the limit, there are no limits. He does this by writing facts that are quite amazing with complete seriousness, such as telling the story of how a teenaged Kaku, "asked my mother for permission to build a 2.3 million volt particle accelerator in the garage.

I admit that I did a double take and wondered if this was the first of many Tall Tales of the future. It's not. The adolescent enthusiasm was real, the results were real and Kaku was well on his way to a life of science. (Good thing he didn't choose a life of crime!) This book is written for that boy, and any man or woman who has ever succumbed even for a moment to the wonder of discovery.

Kaku's methods for research are simple but his energy is inexhaustible. He interviewed over 300 scientists to get the background research right, and he lists every one. He required that they had working prototypes of the technology they spoke about, in a commendable effort to eliminate wishful thinking from the equations and extrapolations. He also spends a fair amount of time in the book looking at the history of how we got where we are today, to give credence to his history of the future.

And what a future! Kaku is an optimist, though he does on occasion suggest that things could indeed go very badly for us. If we decide to destroy the planet and ourselves in the process, we could very easily do so. But as Kaku goes systematically through the computer, AI, medicine, nanotechnology, energy technology, and space travel he has no problem accentuating the positive. The result is a rip-roaring reading experience. Kaku's prose is lively and his sense of organization is impeccable. He makes his case for the technology of the divine with a clear head and clean conscience. This is a book of thinking, not wishing and not wishful thinking.

Unlike others who engage in extrapolations, Kaku is not afraid to look at the Dismal Science, economics. He admits that we face challenges, but his vision here is as clear as it is elsewhere. It's an admirable chapter and an admirable almost-conclusion to the book. But it's not the end.

Having set up his concept of the Human Gods who will usher in the 22nd century, Kaku finishes the book with a vision of a day in the life of an average man. Here he coalesces the work of the previous chapters and writes a scene that is not exactly science fiction, but a personalization, as it were of his conclusions in the chapters that preceded it. It's refreshing and well done. If the man were not so committed to science, he'd make a fine science fiction writer.

As a reader of science fiction, I have to say that this is exactly the kind of book that set me down the path of reading so long ago. It's a blast to read it now, as Kaku's lively prose and clean style bring his visions to life. As a science fiction reader who is alive in the years I once read descriptions of in works of popular science and science fiction, I do have some reservations. My reading of Kaku's book suggests he might agree.

To my mind, change is overrated and overstated. Indeed, while many things have changed drastically in the past 100 years, in my lifetime, at least, suburbs have remained suburbs and cities have remained cities. Some of the details of how we live have changed significantly, but the broad outlines are the same. Everyone has to work for a living, we generally have to take some well-worn mode of transport to get there, and the aliens are nowhere to be found. Both Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey still seem like futuristic visions and not like historical fiction or works of mimetic reality.

Family legend has it that my great-grandfather was the first to fly across Brazil in a zeppelin. It may or may not be true, but it is certainly something I'd like to do — but we don't really have that technology cheaply, easily available. In some ways, technology has retreated in the past hundred years. We live well, but not so differently as previous generations.

I do indeed hope my grandchildren and great grandchildren live as gods. But I also hope that even then, they'll be able to buy and read books like 'The Physics of the Future,' books that will set their minds afire with hope and joy and wonder — and a judicious amount of healthy skepticism.

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