A dense but accessible discussion of the metaphysical role of time in human affairs.

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THE PHYSICIST & THE PHILOSOPHER

EINSTEIN, BERGSON, AND THE DEBATE THAT CHANGED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF TIME

In 1922, at a meeting of the French Society of Philosophy, Henri Bergson (1859-1941), “one of the most respected philosophers of his era,” expressed unhappiness with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which discarded the concept of absolute time and denied the reality of simultaneity. Present in the audience, Einstein disagreed.

One consequence was that the Nobel committee changed its mind, awarding Einstein the 1922 prize for explaining the photoelectric effect on the grounds that relativity was still a matter of debate. Both reaffirmed their disagreement over the years, a matter that scholars have not considered of great importance. In this lucid if academic history of scientists’ efforts to measure time and the consequences of their success, Canales (Chair, History of Science/Univ. of Illinois; A Tenth of a Second: A History, 2010, etc.) makes a reasonable case that those scholars were wrong. Einstein did not invent the relativity of time and space, but his 1905 special theory proposed such a revolutionary view of the universe that even those who did (Henri Poincaré, Hendrik Lorentz) balked. Bergson, a brilliant thinker whose writing emphasizes intuition and perception, was also not convinced, “claiming that the sensational conclusions of the physicist’s theory were not so unlike the fantastical searches for the fountain of youth.” Canales dismisses the argument that Bergson, a polymath, didn’t understand the theory of relativity. He and his supporters’ objections stemmed from a “strong repugnance toward a philosophy that wants to explain all reality mechanically.” The author turns up a surprising number of philosophers and scientists who weighed in on an ongoing, if not world-shaking, debate that split the century “into two cultures pitting scientists against humanists, expert knowledge against lay wisdom.”

A dense but accessible discussion of the metaphysical role of time in human affairs.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-16534-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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