SYNCHRONICITY

THE EPIC QUEST TO UNDERSTAND THE QUANTUM NATURE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT

An intensely detailed investigation of modern scientific fields that defy common sense.

Another attempt to explain quantum mechanics that sometimes succeeds.

A bedrock of science is that things happen for a reason. The window breaks after the rock strikes it, not before. Also, it doesn’t break because the stars are misaligned. This is the concept of cause and effect, writes physics professor Halpern, who begins with a history of science beginning with the ancient Greeks, who didn’t trust observation because human senses were imperfect. True knowledge, they taught, required deep thought. Aristotle explained a few things correctly but got many wrong. Once thinkers took observation seriously—Galileo was probably the first scientist—centuries of straightforward scientific explanations followed until the 20th century, when Einstein’s relativity muddled matter, energy, time, and space and then quantum mechanics proved that reasonable things such as locating a particle precisely are impossible—but the impossible happens routinely. Light changes from a wave to a particle and back again. Devoting two-thirds of his text to history, Halpern delves so deeply into quantum mechanics that readers unfamiliar with college physics will struggle. At this point, he introduces Carl Jung, the brilliant Swiss psychiatrist who both learned from and influenced physicist Wolfgang Pauli during 25 years of their relationship, beginning in the 1930s. Jung believed that humans share a collective unconscious revealed through religion, mythology, and art, with dreams playing a central role. That dreams rarely make sense stimulated Jung, who emphasized synchronicity, the idea that coincidences are connected provided one looks deeply enough. Thus, it was no accident that Mark Twain was born and died in a year of Halley’s comet. The experience left Pauli fascinated by mysticism, numerology, and psychic phenomena without contributing much to his scientific acumen. Since synchronicity is unprovable, few scientists take it seriously. Halpern is no exception, but he presents it as a painful example of the difficulty of understanding phenomena that seem to lack cause and effect.

An intensely detailed investigation of modern scientific fields that defy common sense.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7363-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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