Friday, February 1, 2013

The Page 99 Test

English editor Ford Madox Ford advised people who are debating if they should read a particular book to “open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” This approach is now called the Page 99 Test. Although arbitrary, it provides a way to decide quickly if a book will interest you. Let’s try the Page 99 Test with the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Section 4.12 comparing drift and diffusion ends on Page 99, and Section 4.13 about the solution to the diffusion equation begins. The page contains five displayed equations (four of them numbered, Eqs. 4.70 to 4.73) and three figures (Figs. 4.17 to 4.19). An example of the text of page 99 is the opening paragraph at the start of Sec. 4.13.
“If C(x, 0) is known for t = 0, it is possible to use the result of Sec. 4.8 to determine C(x,t) at any later time. The key to doing this is that if C(x,t) dx is the number of particles in the region between x and x+dx at time t, it may be be interpreted as the probability of finding a particle in the interval (x, dx) multiplied by the total number of particles. (Recall the discussion on p. 91 about the interpretation of C(x,t).) The spreading Gaussian then represents the spread of probability that a particle is between x and x + dx.”
Page 99 appears in the Table of Contents:
4.13 A General Solution for the Particle Concentration as a Function of Time . . . . . 99
and the title of this section appears as the running title at the top of the page. Page 99 appears three times in the index, under 1) Diffusion equation, general solution, 2) Fick’s law (frankly, I'm not sure why page 99 is listed for Fick's law, as I don't see it mentioned explicitly anywhere on that page), and 3) Gaussian distribution. According to the Symbol List at the end of Chapter 4, the first use of the Greek symbol xi for position was on page 99. Somewhat unusually, no references are cited on page 99 (there are citations on the page before and the page after). No corrections to page 99 appear in the errata, and no words are emphasized using italics.

Does Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology pass the page 99 test? I think so. The topic—diffusion—is a physical phenomenon that is crucial for understanding biology. The mix of equations and figures is similar to the remainder of the book. Calculus is used without apology. If you like page 99, I think you will enjoy the rest of the book. And if you like page 99, you are going to love page 100, which contains more equations and figures, plus error functions, Green's functions, random walks, and citations to classic texts such as Benedek and Villars (2000), Carslaw and Jaeger (1959), and Crank (1975). And if you liked page 100, on page 101 you find......


  1. Just opened my mail to find Bioelectricity, A Quantitative Approach, by Plonsey and Barr; so immediately gave it the ole 99-test. As expected, it too passed, so look forward to the course Bioelectricity given by Robert Barr online. It's free and starts today at!

  2. Roger Barr will give a good class, I am sure. I have used the Plonsey and Barr book for my graduate bioelectricity class, although the last time or two I didn't use a book but used research papers instead. Here is another Plonsey book you might like: