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Book review

by Carlo Rovelli
Penguin/Random House 2014
ISBN 978-0-141-98172-7

I have to admit that Physics was never my favourite subject back in my studying days. All those equations, all that weirdness (and not just confined to "quantum weirdness"), blackboards covered with hieroglyphics, the need, like the White Queen, to believe "as many as six impossible things before breakfast" or continuing the Alice allusions and quoting the Cheshire Cat "I'm not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different to yours".

It was a great pleasure, therefore, to find this small book (83 pages including index) which provided exactly what the title suggests – some physics lessons that can even be understood by "a bear of very little brain". (I know, I know, but I get so few opportunities to flaunt my liberal Arts education when discussing matters of science.)

The seven lessons are:

  • Relativity
  • Quantum mechanics
  • The structure of the universe
  • Particles and quarks (here is where we Arts graduates say "Three quarks for Muster Mark")
  • Quantum gravity – the granularity of space
  • Probability and the movement of heat
  • How do we fit into all this?

You can easily read this book in an afternoon, and it would be an afternoon well spent. It is well written (and survived translation – this edition is in English, but the original Italian has been translated into thirty-one languages) and the lessons are clear and easily understood by someone with no special training in physics (or the mathematics which usually makes laypeople run away from physics texts). I just wish some of my teachers over the years had been able to explain things so well.

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About the author:

Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who has made significant contributions to the physics of space and time and is a founder of loop quantum gravity theory. He has worked in Italy and the US and at the time the book was written he was directing the quantum gravity research group at the Centre de Physique Théorique in Marseilles, France. He is someone who knows what he is talking about.

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