Fundamental physics for the nonphysicist.

Popular books on the physical sciences regularly boast that they contain no equations, which Carroll, a professor of natural philosophy and author of multiple books on cosmology, admits is an acceptable approach. Ultimately, however, “you’re not getting the *real *stuff. What you get are images and metaphors, rough translations of the underlying mathematical essence into ordinary language. You can go an impressive distance down this route, but something vital will always been missing.” Words can describe a concept, he notes, but mathematics tells you what’s really going on. The good news is that equations shouldn’t deter too many potential readers of this book, “meant for people who have no more mathematical experience than high school algebra, but are willing to look at an equation and think about what it means.” A central tool of physics, calculus can be explained clearly in the hands of a skilled pedagogue like Silvanus P. Thompson, whose 1910 classic, *Calculus Made Easy*, is still in print. For those with some familiarity with calculus, Carroll’s concision will be appreciated. The author is at his best with familiar concepts such as space. Once considered an empty container for the universe, it turns out to be a turbulent phenomenon with “a life of its own.” Time is similar to space; it’s part of how we locate ourselves, and we can measure it. But it’s different because it seems to flow, invariably from the past to the future—although no law forbids the opposite. Gravity, energy, relativity, and the life of stars receive Carroll’s enthusiastic attention, much as they did in such previous books as *From Eternity to Here *and *Something Deeply Hidden*. Despite the author’s claims, however, some of the math will flummox readers.

No-nonsense, not-dumbed-down explanations of basic laws of the universe that reward close attention.