A delicious addition to the "Big Question" genre.

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THE GREAT UNKNOWN

SEVEN JOURNEYS TO THE FRONTIERS OF SCIENCE

Are there limits to human knowledge? Philosophers and religious thinkers have long answered “yes” and then provided examples that turned out to be wrong. A renowned mathematician argues that “yes” might very well be correct.

Du Sautoy (Public Understanding of Science/Oxford Univ.; The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey through Everyday Life, 2011, etc.) sets himself a difficult task: “to know whether there are things that, by their very nature, we will never know.” He asks, “despite the marauding pace of scientific advances, are there things that will remain beyond the reach of even the greatest scientists, mysteries that will remain forever part of the great unknown?” Readers will thoroughly enjoy his successful effort, which avoids the pitfalls of predicting specifics by addressing general areas. Empty space cannot exist; it’s impossible to know the simultaneous location and speed of anything; particles sometimes behave like pure energy. This is true of everything but becomes obvious at the level of atoms and smaller. It’s called quantum mechanics, a murky subject that nobody understands fully. The most powerful computer can’t forecast a traffic jam or the weather beyond a few weeks because a small change at the beginning may produce enormous, unpredictable changes later. This is chaos theory, an implacable barrier. Deconstructing time and determining the size of the universe remain out of reach, but the mechanism of consciousness, once the poster boy of impossibility, now seems the inevitable product of increasingly advanced studies in neuroscience. The author concludes with his own field, which, unlike science, can prove statements absolutely. Infinity, once considered beyond comprehension, turns out to be full of interesting qualities, and parallel lines often meet, but mathematicians have shown that many statements and entire areas of mathematics are unprovable.

A delicious addition to the "Big Question" genre.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2180-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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