YE OLDE CURIOSITY SHOPPE There's no place like foam Editor's note: Each month we see lots of books. Some of the curious arrivals are featured in this space.

The universe is a strange and wonderful place, and nobody knows this better than the people who are experts on things that the rest of us take for granted. Sidney Perkowitz is just such an expert. A physics professor at Emory University, he is also a science writer of extraordinary talent and grace, author of the splendid 1996 book Empire of Light: A History of Discovery in Science and Art. His latest book is on a topic which you may never have given a moment's thought: the physics of foam.

No topic is boring or incomprehensible when explained by the right person, and Perkowitz once again proves himself the right person. Universal Foam: From Cappuccino to the Cosmos is informative, yes, but it is also lively, entertaining, and even amusing. Perkowitz's writing style refutes the hoary notion that scientists are dull geeks. Scientists who work hard to become popular science writers do so because they are enthusiasts.

What you take away from the 170-odd pages of Universal Foam is the realization that a great deal of the universe operates under the rules of the physics of foam. There are chapters on Edible Foam (bread, beer, cappuccino), Practical Foam (cork, shaving cream), Living Foam (cells, viruses), and even Cosmic Foam (comets, galaxies). You wind up shaking your head and repeating the last words of the Wicked Witch of the West: What a world, what a world. . . .

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