Baggott provides a wild but expert and comprehensive ride; readers will agree that while we have learned a great deal about...



An imaginative book that seeks the answer to the question, what is matter?

The answer is definitely not simple, but veteran British science writer Baggott (Origins: The Scientific Story of Creation, 2015, etc.) has done his homework, and science-minded readers will enjoy the result. He begins with the revolutionary philosophers of ancient Greece, who thought deeply and concluded that matter consists of tiny atoms that move about in a void and combine to produce everything we see and experience. For more than two millennia, the concept of the atom remained an object of metaphysical speculation. Then, a few hundred years ago, the first scientists began to tease out more useful facts on the subject. By 1800, chemists understood that matter could be divided until it couldn’t; these were elements (iron, oxygen, carbon). After 1800, realizing that elements combined in simple whole numbers—two hydrogen and one oxygen become one water molecule—scientists theorized that elements consisted of invisibly small atoms. Skeptics disagreed, and it was not until 1905 that Einstein suggested the experiment that proved atoms exist. Then further complications arose. It turns out that matter is another form of energy (Einstein again); atoms are not indivisible but made up of particles, many of which contain little matter. Thus, three quarks making up a proton provide 1 percent of its mass, while the rest is energy. Recent advances suggest that matter is simply an alteration in a quantum field that gives rise to inertia. “In this alternative interpretation,” writes Baggott, “mass is not an intrinsic primary property of material substance; it is, rather, a behavior. It is something that objects do rather than something they have.” Readers not paying close attention will scratch their heads.

Baggott provides a wild but expert and comprehensive ride; readers will agree that while we have learned a great deal about matter, we still don’t understand it.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-875971-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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