By Carlo Rovelli
Allen Lane (September 24, 2015)
Carlo Rovelli’s book is a collection of essays about the fundamental laws of physics as we presently know them, and the road that lies ahead. General Relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, cosmology, quantum gravity, the arrow of time, and consciousness, are the topics that he touches upon in this slim, pocket-sized, 79 pages collection.Rovelli is one of the founders of the research program of Loop Quantum Gravity, an approach to understanding the quantum nature of space and time. His “Seven brief lessons on physics” are short on scientific detail, but excel in capturing the fascination of the subject and its relevance to understand our universe, our existence, and ourselves. In laying out the big questions driving physicists’ quest for a better understanding of nature Rovelli makes it clear how the, often abstract, contemporary research is intimately connected with the ancient desire to find our place in this world.
As a scientist, I would like to complain about numerous slight inaccuracies, but I forgive them since they are admittedly not essential to the message Rovelli is conveying, that is the value of knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. The book is more a work of art and philosophy than of science, it’s the work of a public intellectual reaching out to the masses. I applaud Carlo for not dumbing down his writing, for not being afraid of using multi-syllable words and constructing nested sentences; it’s a pleasure to read. He seems to spend too much time on the beach playing with snail-shells though.
I might have recommended the book as a Christmas present for your relatives who never quite seem to understand why anyone would spend their life pondering the arrow of time, but I was too busy pondering the arrow of time to finish the book before Christmas.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how fundamental questions in physics tie together with the mystery of our own existence, or maybe just wants a reminder of what got them into this field decades ago.
[Disclaimer: I got the book as gift from the author.]