“to whet thirst for knowledge, to evoke the desire for further reading”.
Chances are that one of the first book that actually interested you in mathematics and physics was that of the incredibly talented writer Yakov Perelman. There are numerous books by Perelman which have been published and translated in numerous languages. In India I have seen his works in Marathi, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Kannada (thanks to Shashi for pointing this out. Still in print! check the comment by Shahsi) and Gujarati at least, (there may be many more of which I am not aware of). If you know of any other translations in Indian languages please let us know. The books also exist in a lot of other European languages.
The wikipedia page referred to above, lists the books by Perelman as below. Each one is a gem.
- Mathematics Can Be Fun
- Recreational Astronomy
- Physics for Entertainment
- Figures for Fun
- Fun with Maths & Physics
- Arithmetic for Entertainment
- Mechanics for Entertainment
- Geometry for Entertainment
- Astronomy for Entertainment
- Lively Mathematics
- Physics Everywhere
- Tricks and Amusements
- Algebra Can be Fun
In this the Physics for Entertainment, has been published as a two volume series, especially in the regional languages of India. Many of the books were published under different titles, as publishers, long after Perelman was gone, continued to print the books. This led to different editions of the books, with different graphics supporting them over the years.
The following foreword by the editor of the Physics Can Be Fun that I have describes it more aptly:
Perelman’s Physics for Entertainment owes its wide popularity to the rare talent of its author who was able to single out and present in an entertaining form ordinary facts and phenomena that have a deep physical meaning.
The aim of the book is not so much to give you some fresh knowledge, as to help you “learn what you already know”. In other words, the idea is to brush up and enliven your basic knowledge of physics, and to teach you how to apply it in various ways. To achieve this purpose, conundrums, brain-teasers, entertaining anecdotes and stories, amusing experiments, paradoxes and unexpected comparisons – all dealing with physics and based on everyday experience and science fiction are included. The author quotes extensively from Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Mark Twain and other writers, because besides providing entertainment, the fantastic experiments these writers describe may well serve as instructive illustrations at physics classes.
On the other hand, you will find very little in the way of parlor tricks or spectacular experiments. The book seeks to stimulate you thinking along scientific lines and to amass associations with a variety of things from everyday life. This English language edition is a translation from the 21st Russian edition of Physics for Entertainment, Book 1 and Book 2. Chapters from 11th to 20th are Book 2. Although the two halves of the book are essential independent and can be read in any sequence, the last ten chapters are, by and large, meant for the more advanced reader.
Perelman once noted that Physics for Entertainment has been written not to leave an inquisitive mind satisfied. On the contrary, its task is “to whet thirst for knowledge, to evoke the desire for further reading”.
I will be soon adding some more wonderful covers of the books and the art contained within those books.
I will reproduce here what one of the editors of Physics Can Be Fun wrote about Perelman in the opening pages of the book:
In 1913 in Russian bookshops appeared a book by the outstanding educationalist Yakov Isidorovich Perelman entitled Physics for Entertainment. It stuck the fancy of the young who found in it the answers to many of the questions that interested them.
Physics for Entertainment not only had an interesting layout, it was also immensely interactive.
In the preface of the 11th edition Perelman wrote: “The main objective of Physics for Entertainment is to arouse the activity of scientific imagination, to teach the reader to think in the spirit of the science of physics and to create in his mind a wide variety of associations of physical knowledge with the widely differing facts of life, with all that he normally comes in contact with.”
Physics for Entertainment was a best seller.
Y. I. Perelman was born in 1882 in the town of Byelostok (now in Poland). In 1909 he obtained a diploma of forester from the St. Petersburg Forestery Institute. After the success of Physics for Entertainment Perelman set out to produce other books, in which he showed himself to be an imaginative popularizer of science. Especially popular were Arithmetics for Entertainment, Mechanics for Entertainment, Geometry for Entertainment, Astronomy for Entertainment, Figures for Fun, Physics Everywhere, and Tricks and Amusements. Today these books are known to every educated person in the Soviet Union.
He has also written several books on interplanetary travel (Interplanetary Journeys, On A Rocket to Stars, World Expanses,
etc.). The great scientist K. E. Tsiolkovsky thought highly of talent and the creative genius of Perelman. He wrote of him in the preface to Interplanetary Journeys: “The author has long been known by his popular, witty and quite scientific works on physics, astronomy, and mathematics, which are moreover written in a marvellous language and are very readable.”
Perelman has also authored a number of textbooks and articles in Soviet popular science magazines.
In addition to his educational, scientific and literary activities,
he has also devoted much tie to editing. So he was the editor of
the magazines Nature and People and In The Workshop of Nature.
Perelman died on March 16 1942, in Leningrad.
Many generations of readers have enjoyed Perelman’s fascinating
books, and they will undoubtedly be of interest for generations to