Due to the Octolet’s obsession with Calvin and Hobbes (raised him right!), I’ve been thinking of a ton of things in terms of Bill Watterson strips. There’s one where Calvin asks his dad where wind comes from, and his dad says “from trees sneezing” which Calvin finds questionable, so his dad explains “no, but the truth is much more complicated.” The last panel finds Calvin telling Hobbes “boy, the trees are really sneezing today.”
The challenge in a book like this that explains the scientific behind the mundane is that if it’s too simple, it doesn’t really explain anything (why does my toaster make toast? it gets hot and toasts the bread) but if it’s too complex we get into Troy McClure’s Half Assed Guide to Foundation repair territory, where the jargon renders the explanation too technical to be worth much. (First, patch the cracks in the slab using a latex patching compound and a patching trowel. Assemble the aluminum J-channel using self burring screws. Then, bridge the compound with stainless metal stucco lathe. If you can’t find metal stucco lathe, use carbon fiber stucco lathe.) Kakalios threads the needle between the two extremes, but with enough brevity that the explanations don’t really stick.
This was interesting enough to read while I was actively reading it, but it didn’t leave too much of an impression. Pretty much everything boils down to radio signals and circuits. (Although I do think that the author would appreciate the Simpsons reference in my review, seeing as his book included the footnote “I, for one, welcome our robot overlords”). And in fairness to the author, he digs deep into one explanation and writes, “but if you knew that, why are you reading this book?” I think I needed something that was written at this level, but with more time devoted to each object.