THE MEANING OF IT ALL

THOUGHTS OF A CITIZEN SCIENTIST

In 1963—two years before he got the Nobel Prize—Feynman was asked to deliver three lectures to a lay audience at the University of Washington. Now a new generation of readers can sample vintage Feynman on science, religion, morals, and politics. The voice—plain, no-nonsense—is unmistakable; the ideas, too, will be familiar: Feynman is ever the honest and passionate spokesman for science. The first essay, —The Uncertainty of Science,— speaks to the never-ending quest to deepen our understanding of the universe, with the understanding that we can never achieve absolute certainty. Essay two, —The Uncertainty of Values,— takes the strong view that science in and of itself is valueless; it doesn—t deal with good or evil. It’s how you apply what science has learned that engages moral and ethical issues. With little effort, his ideas apply decades later to contemporary national debates concerning cloning, biological warfare, and environmental pollution. Feynman rather gingerly approaches a discussion of religion. He sees no inconsistency in someone being a scientist and also believing in God. At the same time, he posits a hypothetical student who, as he builds a worldview based on the evidence of evolution and the age of the universe, etc., gradually loses faith in a biblical-style God. He does make it clear that the metaphysics of religion are distinct from whatever moral or ethical values are encoded. The final and longest essay, on the —Unscientific Age— may be the one that most speaks to today’s readers: It is a marvelous compendium of the nonsense and danger of dogmas and pseudoscience, from astrology to ESP—with a few lessons in statistics thrown in for scientists as well. One of the charms of the late Feynman is that in his passion to explain he opened his extraordinary mind to full view by the audience. In this case the audience can and should include students of all ages. (Book-of-the-Month Club featured selection)

Pub Date: April 23, 1998

ISBN: 0-201-36080-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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