# THE BIG BANG OF NUMBERS

### HOW TO BUILD THE UNIVERSE USING ONLY MATH

A successful contribution to the math-isn’t-boring genre.

In-depth analysis of “math as the life force of the universe, a top-down driving power that fashions everything that exists.”

Suri, a novelist and mathematics professor, notes that while physics and religion can offer some answers to many big questions—“Why is the universe the way it is? How do we fit in? The two camps have been duking it out over the answers for centuries”—mathematics offers concrete solutions. In the popular mind, math equals calculation: very useful, very dull. By contrast, writes the author, “we will view mathematics as the fundamental source of creation, with reality trying to follow its dictates as best it can.” Religions have explained the origin and evolution of the universe since the dawn of history; during the last century, physicists chimed in with the Big Bang and other theories. Suri proposes to do the same with math, and readers who pay attention will agree that he is on to something. The essence of math is not counting but measuring, and nothing measurable existed before the Big Bang. You can’t determine where the Big Bang occurred because that was also when space began. In the beginning were numbers, and all were created equal, which turns out to be less simple than it sounds. Numbers can be natural (1, 2, 3…), rational (including some fractions), or irrational (pi, one the square root of 2). All these are real, but unreal (i.e. imaginary) numbers like the square root of -1 also exist, and they’re genuinely useful in many areas of science and engineering. Although Suri does not fully construct the universe, he successfully explores many areas of seemingly pure math that explain the natural world, from the shapes of galaxies and living creatures to weather, gravity, beauty, and even art. He also sheds light on abstruse subjects (fractals, infinity, curved space) that puzzle humans more than they should, creating a text that is deeper than most popular writing on math but worth the effort.

A successful contribution to the math-isn’t-boring genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-324-00703-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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# ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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# WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

### A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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