“The man who makes physics sexy . . . the scientist they’re calling the next Stephen Hawking.” —The Times Magazine
From the New York Times–bestselling author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, The Order of Time, Helgoland, and Anaximander, a closer look at the mind-bending nature of the universe.
What are the elementary ingredients of the world? Do time and space exist? And what exactly is reality? Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has spent his life exploring these questions. He tells us how our understanding of reality has changed over the centuries and how physicists think about the structure of the universe today.
In elegant and accessible prose, Rovelli takes us on a wondrous journey from Democritus to Albert Einstein, from Michael Faraday to gravitational waves, and from classical physics to his own work in quantum gravity. As he shows us how the idea of reality has evolved over time, Rovelli offers deeper explanations of the theories he introduced so concisely in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.
This book culminates in a lucid overview of quantum gravity, the field of research that explores the quantum nature of space and time, seeking to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity. Rovelli invites us to imagine a marvelous world where space breaks up into tiny grains, time disappears at the smallest scales, and black holes are waiting to explode—a vast universe still largely undiscovered.
In his latest explanatory work, Rovelli (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics), a theoretical physicist and proponent of loop quantum gravity, sets himself the difficult task of attempting to clarify for laypeople the most recent scientific theories about the nature of the universe. He begins with historical lessons, going back to philosophical questions posed in Western antiquity. Rovelli races forward through the work of Newton, Faraday, and Maxwell to get to how Einstein refined and added to the field theories of electromagnetism. One of the book's strengths is the picture Rovelli develops of how scientists build on the work of others. But the bulk of the book focuses on evaluating the perplexing nature of space and time, which, as they are commonly understood, appear to be little more than convenient constructs. "Space is created by the interaction of individual quanta of gravity," Rovelli writes, while "the world is made entirely made from quantum fields." The difficulty of understanding this aside, Rovelli smoothly conveys the differences between belief and proof, and concludes with a lovely chapter on being ignorant and eager for the next discovery. Rovelli's work is challenging, but his excitement is contagious and he delights in the possibilities of human understanding.