There is no shortage of books that combine physics and finance in their titles. Most are highly technical works in a loose field called “econophysics.” These cover advanced mathematical models derived from physics that purport to explain financial phenomena, rather than just describe or predict them. Those not falling into this category are texts in quantitative finance translated into terms familiar in the physical sciences. Mathematics may be the universal language, but there are many dialects, and mathematicians, statisticians, mathematical economists, engineers, and physicists often prefer different formulations for the same ideas.

James Owen Weatherall’s book, The Physics of Wall Street, attempts something both different and very useful. It is not technical, and only a small part of it is concerned with models derived from physics. Instead the author is interested in how the...