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

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”


The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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