A brilliantly lucid exposition of profound philosophical and scientific issues in a language accessible to lay readers.

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THE BIG PICTURE

ON THE ORIGINS OF LIFE, MEANING, AND THE UNIVERSE ITSELF

“From the perspective of a vast, seemingly indifferent cosmos,” do our lives really matter?

As might be expected, Carroll’s (Theoretical Physics/Caltech; The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World, 2012, etc.) answer is affirmative but not simple. “We are not the reason for the existence of the universe,” he writes, “but our ability for self-awareness and reflection make us special within it.” Furthermore, “understanding how the world works, and what constraints that puts on who we are, is an important part of understanding how we fit into the big picture.” In this fascinating book, Carroll explores “how and why, in the context of mindless evolution from the Big Bang to the present, the laws of physics brought about complex, adaptive, intelligent, responsive, evolving, caring creatures like you and me.” To effectively navigate these complicated matters, he turns to an area of his own research regarding how the emergence of increasing complexity in the evolving universe relates to increasing entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. Although intuitively, we associate entropy with disorganization and increased randomness, it plays a crucial role in the development of complex structures. For example, it is randomness and apparent disorganization—the role of chance variation and mutations—that are central to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. At each successive level of complexity—from stars and planets to life and conscious beings—different levels of descriptive language are necessary. This introduces a poetic aspect into the language used by scientists in their attempts to understand our place in the universe. The author affirms his conviction that “nothing we…know about consciousness should lead us to doubt the ordinary, naturalistic conception of the world,” including the provisional nature of scientific theory. Carroll is the perfect guide on this wondrous journey of discovery.

A brilliantly lucid exposition of profound philosophical and scientific issues in a language accessible to lay readers.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-95482-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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