Cover Image: The Science of Spin

The Science of Spin

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We used this title as part of our 12th grader's homeschool science credit this year. I found it super interesting after reading the ARC and then purchased and scheduled out a hardcopy for the class.

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Spin: it is not just for politicians anymore. It dominates all aspects of our lives.

“The Science of Spin: How Rotational Forces Affect Everything from Your Body to Jet Engines to the Weather,” by Roland Ennos makes this clear. He shows how rotation affects everything, from the way you move to the existence of the Universe.

Ennos starts with a prologue exploring the difficulties created by spin, including our difficulty in understanding it. He then splits the book into three main parts: how spin affects our world and the universe, how technology uses it, and how it affects the human body. He then wraps things up by putting spin into perspective, its impact and how to teach and explore spin.

In the first section he shows the role rotation plays in our physical world, including its creation. When God created the heavens and the Earth, he used spin to do so. Spin effects continued after the creation of our Solar System. Ennos provides chapters showing how it affects the Earth’s magnetic field, the weather, tides, and virtually every aspect of the world we live in.

He goes on to explore spin in technology. He starts with the humble whorl, a weighted stone used to make thread, one of our earliest tools. He explores the role rotation plays in increasingly sophisticated technology, right down to today’s turbine engines. The wheel, watermills, lathes, pumps, all get a look. It is a fast trip from the Stone Age to the Space Age.

Next, Ennos looks at the role rotation plays in our bodies. Rotation rules how humans move. He starts by showing how simply standing relies on bodily rotation. He then goes on to explore the role it plays in walking, running, throwing, and hitting. It turns out all of these are the functions of surprisingly complicated combinations of rotation.

The best part? Ennos explains everything without using mathematics. The book has no equations. He avoids them believing they do little to explain what happens, even to the mathematically capable. He even argues mathematics hindered our understanding of rotation. Scientists got lost in a welter of equations, sometimes missing obvious explanations. Instead Ennos relies on physical explanations for the phenomena created by spin.

“The Science of Spin” is a delightful book, equally entertaining and enlightening. Read it and you will come away with a better understanding of our world and how it works.

“The Science of Spin: How Rotational Forces Affect Everything from Your Body to Jet Engines to the Weather,” by Roland Ennos, Scribner, 2023, 288 pages, $28.00 (hardcover) $14.99 (ebook), $14.88 (audiobook)
This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is

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The Science of Spin is a delightful journey through the many places that spin shows up in our world. The book explores the effects of spin in three areas – the planet, technology, and the human body – with a writing style that forgoes equations in favor of approachable diagrams and explanations.

The planet section covers solar system formation, planetary orbits, weather patterns, tides, and magnetic fields. At first, I wondered what spin has to do with magnetic fields, but it turns out that their interaction keeps us from dying from solar radiation. The Earth’s spin creates deep molten currents of magnetic material, producing an enveloping field that shields us from the sun’s bombardment and also creates beautiful auroras.
The technology section was the most interesting to me as an engineer. It tracks how spinning equipment evolved and expanded into society over time, from drop spindles to airplanes. A big focus is the use of rotating wheels to power machines, first by water, then steam, and finally electricity. I always enjoy when a book centers on a particular theme and tells the story of innovation through it, like looking at a different facet of the same diamond. The author couples several moments in industrial history together that I would not have expected and shows the through-line of spin in them all.

The human body section is more about rotation than spin and covers how humans stand, walk, run, throw, hit, and twist. Our joints allow such flexibility of motion that we can balance and propel objects with surprising efficiency, never mind the astounding accomplishments of athletes. Thanks to a particularly helpful diagram on arm position, I FINALLY have a sense of how gymnasts initiate and control their twists in the air, a topic that completely baffled me during my brief childhood foray into gymnastics (I quickly grew too tall for the uneven bars and pivoted to dance).

At the end, the author includes a thought-provoking chapter on how scientists’ reliance on math has perhaps held them back from looking at and understanding the world of spin in both its simplicity and complexity. Coupled with the idea that many innovators knew no formal science as such, but simply played around with concepts as they best understood them and created quite clever machines, he makes a powerful argument for why we should think carefully about automatically starting with a formula when exploring new territory.

I was mildly disappointed that some topics were left unexplored, such as atomic spin (briefly touched upon in the closing chapter) and how the human body responds to dizziness (more related to inner ear anatomy, but still relevant I think). However, with such a long list of topics already included, I suppose the author can be forgiven.

The Science of Spin is the valuable addition to science writing we didn’t know we needed. You can read it quickly like I did, skimming over the detailed explanations to get a feel for the whole first, then returning to specific sections to read more carefully. Or you can proceed slowly, digesting each new piece of insight fully before moving to the next. Either way, The Science of Spin offers readers a pleasurable journey towards discovering more of this wonderful, amazing world we live in.

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An interesting read focused on an unexpected physics subject. The title might've been Rotation rather than Spin, since the last half of the book is about human athletics, which mostly involve incomplete rotations, but let's write that off as the editor putting his own spin on things (sorry).

I enjoyed the first half, which talked about the subject on large and small scales - atoms, the universe, and a few things in-between. The latter half, as I said, was about human applications, and that is not a subject I follow. While that content was interesting, the application is hit or miss for me, depending on whether he was talking about the development of better tools and weapons (interesting) or the sports (not).

I enjoyed it overall, I learned a few things I didn't know or had forgotten, and I'm glad I read it. You don't need to be a science geek to enjoy it, as there is no math involved. Worth a look if you're so inclined

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