An enjoyable debut appropriate for both specialists and general readers.



A lively account of physicists in finance.

A young physicist and contributor to Slate and Scientific American, Weatherall (Logic and Philosophy of Science/Univ. of California, Irvine) was puzzled when experts began blaming the 2008 economic collapse on physicists who created complex financial instruments for Wall Street. He wondered: What do physicists have to do with the economy? The author explains how physicists have been predicting the unpredictable on Wall Street for 30 years, accounting for such hedge-fund successes as Jim Simons’ Renaissance Technologies, whose staff, loaded with physics and math doctorates, produced a remarkable 2,478.6 percent return in the decade from 1988 to 1998. The story begins in 19th-century Paris with Louis Bachelier, an aspiring young physicist who worked at the Bourse and viewed trading as an elaborate game of chance. In his dissertation, he explained how probability theory could be used to understand financial markets. “In a just world, Bachelier would be to finance what Newton is to physics,” writes Weatherall. Bachelier was dismissed as a fringe figure in his lifetime, only to be rediscovered and championed years later by economist Paul Samuelson. Others trained in physics, including Maury Osborne of the U.S. Naval Research Lab, and Benoit Mandelbrot, who studied cotton markets, further refined the idea that markets can be understood in terms of a random walk. In a series of bright portraits, Weatherall describes the many subsequent figures who spurred the further evolution of financial modeling, including Edward Thorp, who developed a winning system for blackjack in 1960s Las Vegas and went on to invent the modern hedge fund; party-going wild man and Bell Labs scientist John Kelly Jr., who applied information theory to gambling; and the anti-establishment yippies Doyne Farmer and Norman Packard, who built their Prediction Company using tools developed to anticipate how a turbulent fluid would behave in a narrow pipe.

An enjoyable debut appropriate for both specialists and general readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-31727-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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