The marvellous complexity of the Universe emerges from several deep laws and a handful of fundamental constants that fix its shape, scale, and destiny. Peter Atkins identifies the minimum decisions that would be needed for the Universe to behave as it does, arguing that the laws of Nature can spring from very little. Or perhaps from nothing at all.
With accessible language and wit, Atkins (Chemistry: A Very Short Introduction), a physicist and the author of more than 70 books, explores the physical laws that shape the universe. Atkins is a fan of simplicity in theory and description, describing the big bang as "something from nothing" before going on to discuss how physicists have tried to figure out "how can something come from nothing without intervention." The answer, he says, lies in understanding the laws of nature. Atkins begins with the abstract mathematical concepts discovered by German mathematician Emmy Noether that yield conservation laws, including conservation of energy, the "emperor among laws." He moves swiftly through branches of physics, from the dual nature of electrons and photons as both particle and wave, to thermodynamics, where nothing happens without heat, and the orderly disorder of entropy, without which humans wouldn't exist. The book closes with a look at fundamental constants like the speed of light and the fundamental electric charge, and their implications for the laws of nature. Atkins provides readers with a solid understanding of modern physics in this entertaining unpacking of the notion that "nothing is the foundation of everything.