Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, by Lawrence Krauss (author), Simon Vance (narrator)

Blackstone Audiobooks, January 2012

This book is on the one hand a delight, and on the other hand a disappointment.

It's a lively and interesting look at current physics--or  at least, physics as of 2011; developments have continued. Krauss gives us a clear, interesting, and compelling account of the current scientific understanding of how our universe came into existence, how matter and energy can come from nothing, and why such exotic concepts as dark matter are fundamental to understanding how this universe works the way it does and why we are even able to exist.

And if my references to "this universe" and "our universe" seem a bit strange, well, Krauss also describes why it's likely there's more than one universe.

This is all challenging material, and Krauss makes it worth the work to pay careful attention. That's a vital skill in a good science popularizer--and we need more good science popularizers. Children taught in school that science is a matter of rote memorization to pass a test are at far too high a risk of becoming adults who think science is a matter of belief and ideology--and that scientists are just being narrow-minded when they insist climate change is real, or that so-called "creation science" is simply, factually false, and not anything like real science. They will, in short, be at risk of becoming adults who think science is a liberal conspiracy out to undermine decent moral and religious values, and wreck our economy and way of life.

Where we run into trouble in this book is that Krauss thinks he has not not just make the science clear, but also make it clear that, in his mind, which he takes to be objective fact, of course you are totally free to believe in God, but "God" is completely unnecessary... He's far too polite, reasonable, and probably a totally nice guy, to say that only fools believe in God.

He doesn't seem to understand, as many other atheist or agnostic scientists do understand, that religion and science are not about the same things. (Granted, there are religious believers who make the same mistake, aided and abetted by poor quality science education in the schools.) No, Mr. Krauss, I don't need to know your views on God, or your views on my belief in God, to be a fascinated and receptive audience for your explication of the physics and cosmology you've devoted your professional life to doing such good work in. I'm not interested in what Christopher Hitchens had to say; if I were, I would read his books to find out, not yours. There's no need to quote him repeatedly in a books I'm reading because I want to know about the physics and cosmology you're writing about.

Seriously.

Now, I do need to say that there was not so much of this stuff that it prevented me from enjoying the book and learning from it. And I'm well aware that what annoyed me will make this book more attractive to some readers. If so, great! Enjoy! I don't write these reviews to discourage anyone from reading something they'll enjoy. My hope is, in fact, that even if you disagree with my judgments, you'll still be able to recognize in my reviews books you'll enjoy even if I dislike them, and books you won't enjoy even if I love them.

In any case, I did enjoy A Universe From Nothing. I just would have enjoyed it a bit more if he'd stayed on topic better.

So, on the whole, recommended.

I bought this book.