Mack's pleasing writing style makes speculating about the death of the universe unexpectedly entertaining.

THE END OF EVERYTHING

(ASTROPHYSICALLY SPEAKING)

A theoretical astrophysicist surveys five possible scenarios for the end of the universe, backed by the latest research in physics and cosmology.

Acknowledging the end of the universe is a grim proposition. But after accepting the fact that our universe cannot “persist unchanged, forever,” thinking through the science of end times is actually a thrill, an opportunity “to dig deep into the question of where it’s all going, what that all means, and what we can learn about the universe we live in by asking these questions.” Mack uses humor, metaphor, and personal experience to offset her often technical descriptions, creating a delightfully unsettling narrative that explains big ideas in modern physics and cosmology through the lens of end times. “Whether or not the world is falling apart from a political perspective,” she writes, “scientifically, we’re living in a golden age. In physics, recent discoveries and new technological and theoretical tools are allowing us to make leaps that were previously impossible…the scientific exploration of how the universe might end is just now undergoing its renaissance.” In accessible yet precise language, Mack details how these modern scientific approaches suggest five apocalyptic scenarios: the Big Crunch, Heat Death, the Big Rip, Vacuum Decay, and the Bounce. Each is creative in its demise, giving the author an excuse to expound on the latest theories about dark energy and the expanding universe, the Higgs boson, and the multiverse. She celebrates that the near future will be filled with knowledge and discovery, even if the far future is doomed. “Work on the cutting edge of physics is already pointing us toward a universe far stranger than we even could have imagined,” she writes. Drawing on the wisdom of a variety of pioneering physicists, the author delivers a sleek narrative of discovery.

Mack's pleasing writing style makes speculating about the death of the universe unexpectedly entertaining. (b/w illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0354-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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PLAGUES AND PEOPLES

McNeill's global history of infectious disease and its effect on the political destinies of men is built on a stunning analogy: the "microparasitism" of viruses and bacteria—carriers of typhoid, malaria, et al.—is intimately bound up with the "macroparasitism" of human predators, be they Chinese warlords, Roman soldiers, or Spanish conquistadors. Epidemological upheavals produce disarray in political and social structures; conversely microparasitic stability which allows for population growth and food surpluses seems to be a prerequisite of macroparasitic equilibrium. McNeill develops this thesis initially by examining the "disease pools" of ancient China, the Indian subcontinent, and the Mediterranean. Rome's decay between 200 and 600 A.D. demonstrates that when a new disease (in this case smallpox and measles) strikes a previously unexposed population, catastrophic die-offs occur. Much later, the age of oceanic exploration (1450-1550) brought similar cataclysms to Mexico and Peru where the native Amerindian populations (who had no immunity to Eurasia's "common childhood diseases") died off by the millions. Nothing escapes McNeill's reckoning: the Hindu caste system; the impetus epidemics gave to early Christianity which stressed the evanescence of human life and—no small matter—the nursing and care of the sick; the lethal blow which the advent of the bubonic plague in 14th-century Europe dealt to the rational theology of Acquinas; the "disease barrier" which until the 19th century kept the technologically advanced "macroparasites" of European imperialism from effective penetration of Africa. To be sure the scanty and often indecipherable medical writings of the ancient world force McNeill to rely on a great deal of speculation, deduction, and even guesswork. The book will provoke arguments from countless specialists. No matter. Plagues and People, a glorious successor to The Rise of the West, integrates ecology and demography with politics and culture on a vast scale. A brilliantly conceptualized and challenging scholarly achievement.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1976

ISBN: 0385121229

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1976

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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