A well-crafted reflection on the place of religion in the physical world.



A wide-ranging discussion of the natural world from a dedicated but inquisitive theist.

The habits of the giant coconut crab, the workings of world religions, and the ebb and flow of the weather might seem about as disparate a group of assembled elements as possible. But seen through the author’s lens of interconnected ecosystems, the preceding topics and many more become a unified field of sound scholarly exploration, not to mention free-flowing musing. Dutifully recounting the science behind such notions before asking the inevitable question of why we believe in the things we believe in, the author confidently credits a supreme being presiding over the whole shebang. But the God born out of this reality’s Big Bang is not the meddling—some might say malevolent—deity of the Old Testament. According to the author, he can’t be, since “God’s interventions would change natural ecology and play havoc with the Butterfly Effect.” The last phenomena, as sci-fi fans know, postulates that even the flapping of a butterfly’s wings—or the absence of such flapping—has enormous consequences further down the chain of interconnected causality. Thus, the God described here is omnipresent and omnipotent, but he doesn’t intervene or answer prayers: “God does not tinker with anything on Earth.” This view, the author says, leaves the door wide open for science and theism to happily coexist. For instance, evolution isn’t a problem for the theistic writer if Charles Darwin’s theory just happens to be the Almighty’s way of getting things done. Ultimately, however, the lack of a coherent or compelling focus threatens to undermine the earnestness that resides within this constantly leapfrogging treatise. Those operating outside the restrictive lens of religious dogma won’t be inspired or especially challenged, but seen through a more accommodating lens, this God-fearing author’s exhortations could prove notably provocative and productive.

A well-crafted reflection on the place of religion in the physical world.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1481254137

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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