An idiosyncratic mishmash of science and religion that’s neither intellectually compelling nor spiritually uplifting.

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A grandiose treatise that ponders the laws of physics, the history of the cosmos, the nature of God and the fate of mankind.

Sagar, an engineer, styles this tome as a kind of “autobiography” of his existence, starting with the formation of his constituent subatomic particles, but it’s more of a rambling tour of readings and musings in physics and philosophy. It begins with a brief, engaging account of cosmology from the Big Bang through the evolution of life. The book then turns to more involved (and less successful) explorations of advanced physics, including the mysteries of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, “quantum entanglement” and the relativistic paradoxes of travel near the speed of light. Sagar’s explications of these difficult topics are haphazard, sketchy and often hard to follow, and he freely admits to not fully understanding them himself. The book’s sixth chapter comprises a fanciful “seminar” of great thinkers—from Immanuel Kant to Albert Einstein to contemporary physicist Freeman Dyson—that reprints lengthy excerpts of their philosophical writings, and this material is sometimes stimulating. However, much of it will be indigestible and baffling to lay readers. All this background sets up a section on Sagar’s own philosophical speculations, which mix such topics as the anthropic principle—which says that fundamental constants must be able to support the life-forms that observe them—with the quantum mechanics mysticism popularized by Fritjof Capra’s 1975 book The Tao of Physics. Sagar theorizes that God is an abstract “all intelligent omnipresent…infinite mind”; that humans may eventually merge into the divine “Superconsciousness” and change the fundamental constants in order to forestall the death of the present universe and create a new one; and that our main task is to avoid blowing ourselves up in the next few centuries—a disaster that Sagar considers a near-certainty unless everyone works for world peace. The book’s pensées aren’t especially original or deep, and it supports them less with clear arguments than with erudite gobbledygook (“So, you rely on the strong Leibniz principle and a rough estimate on sizes of abstractly possible universes in order to settle a metaphysical dispute that is at least as undecidable with finitist means as the fine structure of the Cantor set?”). Overall, the book presents a theory of everything that could put almost any seminar room to sleep.

An idiosyncratic mishmash of science and religion that’s neither intellectually compelling nor spiritually uplifting.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492828907

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2014

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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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