A roaming, eye-opening, insightful, and literate collection of science writing.



Complex science made accessible.

Novelist, physicist, and popular science writer Lightman gathers together essays—some previously published in the New Yorker, Guernica, the New York Times, and other publications—that discuss scientists, their imaginations, and their discoveries. “Spectacular things are going on out there,” he writes, “whether we notice or not.” As in his previous books of both nonfiction and fiction, Lightman is once again our helpful, genial guide to the mysteries of the universe. He begins with Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), who was “practically unique in being a humanist and a scientist at once.” What the author finds most interesting about Pascal is his “imagination of the…infinitely small and the infinitely large.” In “What Came Before the Big Bang?” Lightman notes that physicists believe the “entire universe we see today was far smaller than a single atom,” and somehow time emerged—or did time already exist? He talks with theoretical physicist Sean Carroll about the future, with its “condition of increasing mess,” and the past, with its “increasing tidiness,” in terms of the “improbable smoothness of the observable universe.” Lightman wonders if space goes on “forever, to infinity?” Or is it “finite but without boundary or edge, like the surface of a sphere”? In the essay “On Nothingness,” the author addresses the concept of “empty space” while “Atoms” speculates about the existence of quarks and “extremely tiny one-dimensional ‘strings’ of energy.” Edwin Hubble’s 1929 discovery that the universe is expanding is “probably the most important cosmic discovery of all time,” and “we expect that the universe will keep expanding forever.” Elsewhere, Lightman writes that it’s “almost certain that life exists elsewhere in the universe.” Discussing visionary physicist Andrei Linde’s concept of a “map of the universes,” Lightman offers up this head-spinner: It’s “possible” that there are “multiple universes, each infinite in extent.” Some “might even have different dimensions than our own universe.”

A roaming, eye-opening, insightful, and literate collection of science writing.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4901-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.


The bad news: On any given outdoor expedition, you are your own worst enemy. The good news: If you are prepared, which this book helps you achieve, you might just live through it.

As MeatEater host and experienced outdoorsman Rinella notes, there are countless dangers attendant in going into mountains, woods, or deserts; he quotes journalist Wes Siler: “People have always managed to find stupid ways to die.” Avoiding stupid mistakes is the overarching point of Rinella’s latest book, full of provocative and helpful advice. One stupid way to die is not to have the proper equipment. There’s a complication built into the question, given that when humping gear into the outdoors, weight is always an issue. The author’s answer? “Build your gear list by prioritizing safety.” That entails having some means of communication, water, food, and shelter foremost and then adding on “extra shit.” As to that, he notes gravely, “a National Park Service geologist recently estimated that as much as 215,000 pounds of feces has been tossed haphazardly into crevasses along the climbing route on Denali National Park’s Kahiltna Glacier, where climbers melt snow for drinking water.” Ingesting fecal matter is a quick route to sickness, and Rinella adds, there are plenty of outdoorspeople who have no idea of how to keep their bodily wastes from ruining the scenery or poisoning the water supply. Throughout, the author provides precise information about wilderness first aid, ranging from irrigating wounds to applying arterial pressure to keeping someone experiencing a heart attack (a common event outdoors, given that so many people overexert without previous conditioning) alive. Some takeaways: Keep your crotch dry, don’t pitch a tent under a dead tree limb, walk side-hill across mountains, and “do not enter a marsh or swamp in flip-flops, and think twice before entering in strap-on sandals such as Tevas or Chacos.”

A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12969-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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