A brief yet mind-twisting exploration of the laws of nature.
At first blush, readers may be under the assumption that Atkins (Fellow, Lincoln Coll./Univ. of Oxford; Chemistry: A Very Short Introduction, 2015, etc.), the author of numerous scientific textbooks who has taught chemistry at universities throughout the world, is primarily concerned with cosmogenesis. He engages in economical but not simple descriptions: of how, out of emptiness, roughly 14 billion years ago, nothing rolled over and brought forth time and space (“how something can come from nothing without intervention”), or the contention that time and space could be circular, with no beginning or end. The author then moves into a discussion of Einstein’s theories of relativity and velocity, momentum, moments of inertia, and isotropy. Then Atkins explores reflection and the angle of incidence and refraction and the principle of “least time.” He argues that time is the best comparative measure, and all is reducible to the beauty of mathematics. The author is clearly having fun, and his enthusiasm is contagious and the writing, approachable. Thankfully, he confines equations to footnotes, where dedicated readers can continue their journeys. Throughout, he helps us understand the importance of the underlying laws of nature, such as electricity, magnetism, and temperature, and how they touch every single moment of our lives. He also demonstrates the importance of continuing to advance the study of the world around us. “Maybe there are myriad seemingly irreconcilable yet equally valid descriptions of the world waiting to be discovered,” he writes, “myriad collections of mutually self-consistent yet seemingly disparate laws of nature….Whatever the future, it is good to know that as far as we can see, the universe is a rational place and that even the origins of the laws it abides by are within the scope of human comprehension.”
Atkins pleasingly takes the laws apart, amuses himself (and us) with their parts, and then reassembles them.