Copyright © Karl Dahlke, 2023

This book was inspired by a quote from Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts in 2003, republican candidate for president in 2012, and senator from Utah in 2019. Speaking at a fundraiser, Mitt wondered why you couldn't open the windows of an airplane in flight. He thought that might be useful in an emergency. Really? There are children in elementary school who have a better grasp of atmospheric pressure. His ignorance notwithstanding, Mitt governed a state for 4 years, almost became president in 2012, and leads our country from the senate floor. It is disappointing how much science our leaders don't know.

After high school, we should be able to explain how the world works: physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, and evolution; and yet many of us can't. Perhaps this book can help.

I try to avoid complex math and technical jargon, focusing on concepts and ideas instead. I even provide some exercises - because we learn best by doing. Sometimes it is pencil and paper, like traditional homework, but sometimes it is running around the room with your friends, or watching the bubbles in a glass of club soda. Please follow these exercises if you can.

This book emphasizes breadth, rather than depth. A sitting senator, or a voter, needs to know a little bit about every branch of science, rather than obtaining a Ph.D. in one particular field, although that doesn't hurt either.

The book is organized into sections: physics, astronomy, chemistry, life sciences, and math / logic. The chapters on math are not science per se, but I believe they aid in critical thinking. If you can be rigorous about jumping pegs on a board, then perhaps you can also separate science fact from misinformation. These problems and puzzles are easily understood by a high school student, but the solution is not trivial. Here are some more math puzzles for high school students.

Some chapters include some science history, as well as science fact. It's good to know how we got here.

A few chapters are original short stories, science fiction that fits in with the topic at hand. These are indicated by (fiction), in the table of contents below.

If you enjoy this book, or if you already have a grasp of scientific principles, then I recommend A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. Since he covers Nearly Everything, it's not a short book, but it's a great read; you can't put it down. However, most people can't begin with his tome - it's rather like diving into the deep end of the pool. If you feel like you didn't get a chance to learn basic science, or if your school didn't do a stellar job explaining it, you might want to start here, then read Bryson's book next year.

Returning to our elected officials, Mitt isn't as crazy as his one-off faux pas might suggest. He expanded healthcare in Massachusetts in 2006, when nobody else was doing so. ObamaCare, which covered an additional 20 million Americans, drew inspiration from the work Mitt did at the state level. It is possible to be scientifically illiterate and still make some wise political decisions. It's possible, but it is becoming more difficult, especially at the national level. Physics governs what our military can and can't do, biology (including evolution) influences policy on agriculture and wildlife, medical knowledge shapes our discourse on vaccines and abortion, and climate change affects almost everything in one way or another. If you like a candidates's position on the issues, or if he belongs to your favorite political party, but he thinks Joseph built the pyramids of Egypt to store grain for the upcoming famine, you probably shouldn't vote for him. He doesn't have enough education to run the country. This is an elitist position, and I won't apologize for that. When I'm looking for a doctor, auto mechanic, airline pilot, or lawyer, I expect a certain level of education, and even certification. Serving in the federal government is even more important; we should insist on the best.

I dream of a day when every candidate, and every voter, has a deep understanding of science and technology, and I hope this book carries us one or two meters in that direction. If nothing else, you will know why you can't open the windows of an airplane in flight. ✈

Table of Contents

The Beginning of Science

  1. Those Curious Greeks


  1. Atoms
  2. Heat and Pressure
  3. Mercury, Temperature, and Pressure
  4. Conservation of Mass and Energy
  5. Refrigerators
  6. Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age
  7. Life on Hydra (fiction)
  8. Subatomic Particles
  9. Radioactivity
  10. Atomic Fusion
  11. Set the Atmosphere on Fire
  12. Terminal Velocity
  13. Classifying Musical Instruments
  14. The Bugle
  15. Dialling the Telephone
  16. Units are your Friends
  17. The Heat of a Candle
  18. Boiling Eggs
  19. The Colors of the Rainbow
  20. Why Can't Stars be Green?
  21. Dark Rooms in a Fun House
  22. Sound Transmitted as Light
  23. ElectroMagnetic Waves
  24. Warm up the TV Set
  25. Wow and Flutter
  26. Electricity and Ground
  27. Time is Relative
  28. Trouble in a Flash (fiction)
  29. Quantum Mechanics
  30. Liquid Helium
  31. The Evolution of the File


  1. The Round Earth
  2. The Birth of Astronomy
  3. The Red Ring in the Sky
  4. A Long Solar Eclipse
  5. Clocks and Calendars
  6. The Moon and Mercury
  7. A City on Jupiter
  8. Orbital Mechanics
  9. An Interesting Love Song
  10. Red Giants and Betelgeuse
  11. Red Dwarfs
  12. How Far the Stars
  13. How Fast the Stars
  14. The Unfolding Universe (fiction)


  1. Hydrocarbons
  2. Sulfur and the Skunk
  3. Haber, Nitrogen, and Chlorine
  4. Air Ships
  5. Nonmetal Hydrides
  6. Salt and Salinity
  7. Heavy Water

Life Scienses

  1. Fossil Fuels
  2. The Word of Springsteen (fiction)
  3. Autonomic Regulation of Breathing
  4. Nitrogen and the Bends
  5. Push the Envelope
  6. Surface Area Expanders
  7. It's a Small World (fiction)
  8. Copper Based Blood
  9. Blood Types
  10. Spiders, Insects, and Wings
  11. Fly on a Leash, and Fly on a Fan
  12. The Amazing Tardigrade, and Long Lived Bacteria
  13. Seeding the Galaxy (fiction)
  14. Kingdoms of Life
  15. Virus and Vaccines
  16. Languages
  17. MacroNutrients
  18. We Need Bacteria
  19. Vitamin C
  20. Esters
  21. Soap and Oils
  22. Meat and Vegetables
  23. Don't I Know You (fiction)
  24. Organs Reflected
  25. Sex Chromosomes
  26. Under the Dome
  27. Auditory Illusion
  28. Falling into Liquid Metals
  29. Depression is Adaptive
  30. The Power of the Subconscious
  31. Feedback Loops

Recreational Math

  1. Packing 9 Pieces in a Box
  2. A Three Sided Coin
  3. Birthday Paradox
  4. Knight's Tour
  5. Think Outside the Box
  6. Square of Squares
  7. The Beauty of Prime Numbers
  8. Jumping Pegs

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About the Author