An entertaining and educational review for anyone seeking to brush up on or build his or her knowledge—or, perhaps better,...

WE HAVE NO IDEA

A GUIDE TO THE UNKNOWN UNIVERSE

How did we end up in “a nonbland universe full of structure” instead of somewhere else? No one can yet say: that’s the organizing principle of this lively, agnostic book on physics and its discontents.

Cham, an online cartoonist with a doctorate in robotics, and Whiteson (Experimental Particle Physics/Univ. of California, Irvine), who conducts research at the Large Hadron Collider, combine forces to explore all the things that we cannot say with any confidence about the universe in which we live, an engaging conceit for a book that wears its considerable learning lightly. One question is what the universe is made of, most of it what physicists call “dark matter” or “dark energy”—in fact, only about 5 percent of it is anything we can explain with our current knowledge. “Most of the universe is made of something else”: quite a daunting concept, and by the time Cham and Whiteson get around to explaining what happens, quantum mechanistically speaking, when a particle meets its antiparticle, it’s mind-bogglingly complex. That’s where the cartoons come in. Though the authors are occasionally silly—the notion of filling space with cilantro being one such moment—the overarching spirit is one of helpfulness. After reading this book, general readers without much background in physics will be able to speak knowledgeably about, for example, how quarks relate to leptons. But with a proviso, bearing in mind the book’s premise: yes, with up and down quarks we can make neutrons and protons, but what do the other nine of the dozen known particles do? Write the authors, “why are they there? We have no idea.” Indeed, we do not, but Cham and Whiteson brightly foresee a time in which we have the answers and “today’s philosophy questions are tomorrow’s precision science experiments.”

An entertaining and educational review for anyone seeking to brush up on or build his or her knowledge—or, perhaps better, lack of knowledge.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1151-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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...

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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

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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