Book Review: When Einstein Walked with Godel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought

When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought
Jim Holt

For the past few years, I’ve been happily reading books about physics, written by physicists for the general public. Many of the authors, such as Brian Greene, Michio Kaku and Carlo Rovelli, are such good writers that they can fool you into thinking you actually understand what they’re talking about! Others introduce a few too many abstruse equations and graphs for my leisure-reading comfort. Jim Holt is neither a physicist nor a mathematician (his official title is philosopher), but he writes very entertainingly about science for The New York Times, The New Yorker and many other publications. His method is to provide a thorough survey of the best and most important ideas on a subject, letting his reader encounter a host of past and present brilliant minds with sometimes differing opinions.

Holt’s current book is a collection of essays, long and short, covering a wide variety of topics such as time and relativity, mathematics, the computer age, quantum theory and the philosophy of religion. He enlivens his work by including lots of fast-paced, interesting interviews with the biggest experts in their fields, as well as by providing humanizing accounts of the lives of great thinkers. For instance, his short biography of Ada Lovelace, Byron’s daughter and a mathematician, who has lately been called the “mother of the computer”, left me with a great appreciation of her turbulent and colorful life; unfortunately, she seems not to have been a mathematical genius. Elsewhere in the book, the topic of how the universe will end (and how we will be able to survive it!) is debated by many of the top minds in physics. Freeman Dyson predicts the evolution of thinking beings into “plasma clouds” which could live “forever in an expanding universe”; Michio Kaku believes that, by the time the universe starts “getting really cold”, we will be able to harness the energy of a galaxy and open up a wormhole into another world.

However the universe ends, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to request this volume, full of fascinating reading sure to please anyone who likes to think deeply.

To request a copy, click here.

Review by Deb Burleson, Circulation Staff

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