A well-written, enjoyable, and thoroughly researched summary of everything that brought humans to the present day.


A debut science book offers a history of life in the universe, particularly on Earth.

In the beginning of this comprehensive work, Brodie examines the creation of the universe. Subsequent chapters explore the fundamentals of physics and the development of the solar system, and then the author turns his attention to his home planet. After an overview of Darwinian and Lamarckian theories of evolution, the account moves through the development of life, from the first prokaryotes and eukaryotes to what it means to be human. The volume touches lightly on a multitude of subjects, educating readers without overwhelming them, while providing plenty of material for further study (a substantial glossary and encyclopedic list of citations make up much of the back matter). The book is both informational and highly engaging, in the tradition of Bill Bryson’s A Brief History of Nearly Everything, and works equally well for pleasure reading and as a substitute for a science textbook. Brodie is particularly adept at summarizing and synthesizing existing research, making the works of Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson, and Yuval Noah Harari integral components of his text. The narrative is well organized, with a logical flow from one chapter to the next, and manages to be challenging and engrossing while illuminating topics that are familiar territory, if not always as clearly presented. Brodie has a gift for pithy phrases (“We humans require hierarchy but yearn for our egalitarian heritage”) that render the text deceptively simple while making it a joy to read. In the Preface, he explains that the volume, which includes diagrams and photographs, is the product of more than seven years of research. The effort put into the detailed work is evident throughout, as is the inclusion of recent developments like CRISPR gene-editing technology. Readers who are interested in refreshing their knowledge of science fundamentals will find the volume a useful overview while those who join Brodie in asking the title question will have plenty of fodder for further discussion.

A well-written, enjoyable, and thoroughly researched summary of everything that brought humans to the present day.

Pub Date: May 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5320-4854-8

Page Count: 446

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2019

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It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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