Einstein for mutts
“How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog,” Basic Books

If “Physics for Dummies” left you baffled, maybe it’s time to go a step further: Why not physics for pets? In “How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog,” physics professor Chad Orzel attempts to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity via a dialogue with his dog, Emmy. Orzel breaks down complex concepts — time dilation, relative motion, black holes, the big bang — by applying their physics to canine-friendly situations, like chasing rabbits and determining whether a dog can eat enough kibble to run at the speed of light. Rather than barking or growling, Emmy leavens the mood with requests for walks; and when the academics get heavy, she interjects to beg for clarification. Obviously, real-life dogs will not walk away from the book with a grasp of the universe’s mechanics, but the human sort of non-scientist can get some benefit.

Elements with style
“The Elements,” Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers

The periodic table of the elements looked great up on the wall of your high school science classroom. Why not bring it home? With “The Elements,” Theodore Gray has created what may be the first coffee table book on those basics of chemistry. His exuberantly illustrated, oversize paperback explains the principles behind the famous diagram’s design and goes on to introduce you to each element. Each box on the table gets its own photo-heavy spread and a trivia-rich description that invokes the substance’s commercial applications — including the kooky ones. Remember when people thought inhaling radon was healthful? Did you know that boron is a critical component of Silly Putty and that radium, when combined with zinc sulfide, is the stuff that makes glow-in-the-dark watches glow? It’s a comprehensive guide to the stuff that makes up the universe — and a pretty good conversation starter.

Aaron Leitko