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Friday, January 6, 2012

Review of Inventing Iron Man

Having read Dr. E. Paul Zehr's Becoming Batman...I was thrilled when asked to review Inventing Iron Man. I guess superhero ideology runs through my veins.  Between the two books, this one seemed more readable.  How cool would it be if you could fly?

My review is enclosed. Feel free to leave comments.

Happy Friday!
-Steve
Available at Amazon.com

Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine [Hardcover]
by E. Paul Zehr
224 pages, $24.95
ISBN-13: 978-1421402260
Nonfiction

Review by Steven King, MBA, MEd

Sometimes, when making an emphatic point to students, a teacher’s best intentions do not always accomplish what he thinks they should.  As an unashamed Batman devotee, once upon a time I made a passing reference to the greatness of The Dark Knight as a prelude to one of my lessons.  Prior to delving into the world of mathematics with this group of high school students I said something akin to, “Just imagine—a mere man who became a tremendous superhero.  No one could be as great as Batman.”  Without missing a beat, one of the students in the middle of the class piped up, “Have you ever heard of Iron Man?”  With tongue-in-cheek, I told him I did, but I would only award extra credit for receipt of Batman paraphernalia.

As comic book denizens will know, Iron Man is the invention of Tony Stark, a 30-something genius inventor who inherited Stark Industries from his father at the tender age of 21. Prior to that, at age 15 his penchant for brilliance took him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he would earn two college degrees: one in physics and the other in engineering. On the most recent Forbes Fictional 15, his net worth of $9.4B places him at the number six slot – two spots above the much more conservative true identify of Batman, Bruce Wayne (Whose $7B net worth is still nothing upon which to sneeze.).  Incidentally, he is right behind #5 Jed Clampett (The Beverly Hillbillies), but oil inheritance and country living doesn’t sell any comic books.

Dr. Paul Zehr answers my former student’s query with an insightful analysis about the Golden Avenger. His Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine pulls back the curtain to determine the plausibility of such an endeavor—actually constructing a fighting machine such as the one popularized by Tony Stark in the comic book series.

Zehr’s analysis is compelling as he seeks to establish the credibility of Iron Man.  In the course of his narrative he scrutinizes such topics as:
  • What time frame would be required to produce a pilot sufficiently trained for the job?
  • The timeline required to produce the actual suit, based upon applicable technological trends.
  • Scientific advances in brain-machine interfaces and the type implied in the Iron Man design.
  • Effects of alcohol intoxication upon the ability of an Iron Man character (Any Iron Man devotee should recognize that Tony Stark drinks a wee bit much).
As I read this account, I found Zehr’s development of neuroprosthetics particularly intriguing.  Given his doctoral work in neuroscience, he has the uncanny ability of avoiding strained technical jargon in favor of skillfully leading the novice through what would otherwise prove to be a cerebral quagmire. One learns that Iron Man’s suit would have to have been an advanced brain-machine interface that merely augmented the neural (and physical) abilities of its wearer.  As Mr. Stark even said, “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.”

Previously, I had the privilege (and pleasure) of reading Dr. Zehr’s Becoming Batman.  Contrasted with this work, his writing seems to be much freer and more comfortable—giving the reader an insightful, yet thoroughly enjoyable look into the possibility of becoming Iron Man.

Perhaps authoring a few books about superheroes implies that Dr. Zehr has a hidden desire to offer an elective course in their mythos at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.  Inventing Iron Man is not merely a scientific work, it also includes plentiful illustrations and frequent comic book quotes to keep Iron Man fans interested.  An appendix detailing milestones in Iron Man’s development rounds off this work before Zehr’s inclusion of an impressive bibliography for those seeking additional information.

Highly commended to all who enjoy a look into the world of superheroes—but science nerds will like it, too.

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