A delightful addition to a widespread, ongoing scientific debate.



A striking examination of an important scientific question: “What, exactly, are scholars of fundamental physics today trying to achieve?”

A former editor of Science and Nature, Lindley (Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science, 2007, etc.) expressed unhappiness with his profession in The End of Physics (1993). Since then, matters have changed without actually improving, so he returns to the attack. He maintains that today’s theoreticians have reverted to a pre-modern way of thinking that harks back to the ancient Greeks, who are regarded, incorrectly, as the founders of modern science. Led by Plato, they belittled observation because human senses are imperfect. Greek thinkers believed that true knowledge required reason and logic. They also had a profound respect for mathematics, which they did not consider a useful tool but a source of deep insights. “Fundamental physics has [become] a version of philosophy…one that shares with other areas of philosophical inquiry an endless capacity to ask deep questions and an impressive inability ever to answer them.” Lindley makes his case through a fine capsule history of physical science with an emphasis on Galileo, in the opinion of many the first modern scientist. Galileo looked around, wondered about phenomena (do heavy things fall faster than light things?), performed experiments, and calculated. He produced groundbreaking discoveries, as did his followers, from Newton to Maxwell to Einstein to the founders of quantum mechanics. Lindley believes that physics peaked in the 1970s with the development of the standard model, an excellent if imperfect explanation of fundamental particles and forces. Since then, he adds, researchers have attacked still unexplained problems (dark matter, dark energy) with complex mathematics-based systems (supersymmetry, string theory), some of whose predictions are untestable. He joins a minority of colleagues who complain that a 30-year obsession with pure mathematics has reached a dead end, although the physics establishment remains convinced that deep insights are just around the corner. This scientific polemic deserves mention alongside Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math (2018).

A delightful addition to a widespread, ongoing scientific debate.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54385-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.


Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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