We conventionally think of physics as the source of delights that are at best intellectual: austere, cold, abstract. Science writer Curt Suplee and his colleagues have produced a book that reveals the sensual side of physics.
Suplee's text gives an overview of 20th-century physics; he balances chapters on atomic structure, quantum theory, and cosmology with ones on chaos, materials, and light. His writing is clear and nontechnical, giving a well-balanced roller-skate tour of an immense growth in scientific knowledge: "The world as it is now understood differs more dramatically from the Victorian view than the science of Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton differed from that of Aristotle."
The true glory of the book, though, is visual. Physicists themselves often think in terms of images or devices rather than words or even equations, and Physics in the 20th Century truly conveys that. The illustrations are lush, abundant, and colorful. From the glowing mist of a planetary nebula and the mesmerizing webs of interference patterns to the spare beauty of a particle accelerator wave guide, they put the "physical" back into physics. This is an excellent choice as a gift for anyone interested in physics, from a bright 12-year-old to your local quantum mechanic. --Mary Ellen Curtin