How the Hippies Saved Physics, by David Kaiser

Hey, look, I finally finished this book, first mentioned on the blog back at the end of July. I had to return the book pictured, but then found the audio version on OverDrive, so I couldn’t help but listen, right?


Okay, so. First of all, this book is not exactly about how hippies saved physics. The title is based off of some study called How the Irish Saved Civilization, and the hyperbole is intentional, so I guess I’ll let it slide. It is about hippies, and about hippies doing physics, and about hippies doing really weird things with physics, so if you’re into that sort of thing you won’t be disappointed.

On the actual surviving physics side of things, there’s a lot of info in the book about quantum physics and how absolutely insane it is, with entangled particles and the double slit experiment and quantum encryption and of course Schrödinger’s cat, which is probably still causing (and not causing) Schrödinger endless amounts of frustration.

I majored in physics, so mostly in this part I was like yeah yeah whatever none of this is really new or interesting.


Soooooo it turns out that more than one physicist in the 60s spent some time doing research into extrasensory perception, on the government’s dime. And then some more on other people’s dimes. And that is really the selling point of this book for me, because WHAT. Apparently there were some physics dudes and chicks totally into that Uri Gellar guy and other people who claimed to be able to see the future or see the other side of a playing card or whatever, and the U.S. government was like, well, we’d better play it safe and pour some money into this research just in case the Ruskies get there first. Fantastic! And even when said government stopped pouring money in and most people were like, eh, whatever, probably not, there were still physicists who were like, but MAYBE.

And I am a sucker for a crazy person story, so I liked this part of the book, and the part where Kaiser goes off about one of the non-government money-pouring people who totally turned out to be a murderer. WHAT.

Also, I love the guy who narrates the audiobook (he also did The Disappearing Spoon), whose delightful voice got me through all the boring parts just fine. I totally want to go find a list of his work and see if he’s done any other books I’m interested in reading.

Recommendation: For those who need some crazy science-related anecdotes to throw around at parties.

Rating: 7/10

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