While the author overreaches, her wonderfully lucid explanations of modern physics often hit their marks.

Matter Over Mind

A panoramic account of the cosmos infers political and moral lessons for the whole of humanity.

Trained as a musician and raised by mathematicians, first-time author Walker merged the two interests in her master’s thesis, which explored the possibility of composing music based on chaos dynamics. Her interest in the intersection of physics and human creativity pervades her book, in which the author investigates the distance that separates the constitution of nature and the cognitive processes whereby human beings attempt to apprehend it. She finds that the universe turns out to be infinitely rich in character, comprised of patterns so multitudinous and complex as to elude any comprehensive human perception. In her view, abstract thought, while the root cause of humans’ progress as a species, employs the imposition of limited categories far too narrowly curtailed to comprehend the vastness of the cosmos. After providing a brief biographical account of her own developing interest in physics, Walker takes the reader on a tour of the universe, touching on a broad spectrum of topics, including dark matter and energy, the relativity of space and time, and the Big Bang theory. She then turns to humanity’s place within that tableau, considering the nature of consciousness, morality, and politics. Walker’s erudition is astounding—there is very little of intellectual interest that is not covered by this book, and she provides one of the most accessible introductions to chaos theory available. But that virtue doubles as a vice, since the volume stalls under the weight of its own ambitions; the author simply covers too much too briefly. In addition, her knowledge of moral and political theory is not on the same level as her impressive expertise in physics; for example, her account of the theoretical foundations of American government is respectable but not searching. There’s also a touch of naiveté in her optimism that a certain understanding of physics can transcend the ideological divisions of the left and the right: “We can even merge them into one holistic philosophy. And there is a way to accomplish this which is so simple and natural and good natured that I don’t understand why it isn’t staring us all in the face more plainly.” The prose is admirably clear, and the challenging but approachable accounts of modern physics avoid being overly “mathy.”

While the author overreaches, her wonderfully lucid explanations of modern physics often hit their marks.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4575-4359-3

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Dog Ear

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2016

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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