Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe

Christopher Potter had risen to become a senior publisher at the massively successful Fourth Estate. At one point the publisher held the top three places in the Sunday Times bestsellers' list - 'Longitude' by Dava Sobel, 'Fermat's Last Theorem' by Simon Singh, and 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Then he had a mental and physical breakdown. He underwent conventional drug therapy (which he hated), followed by some more unorthodox approaches, including reflexology (which despite his skepticism, he claims worked).

After a three-month sabbatical he was fully recovered, and decided to write a book that examined the mysteries of the universe. 'You Are Here...' is certainly ambitious in its scope, looking at relativity, evolution, quantum mechanics, the big bang and the meaning of life.

And for its target audience (intelligent, but not necessarily science-based), it is a readable and informative book. It manages to present these big topics without being smug or credulous. His method of breaking things down into scales of size and time is simultaneously helpful and mind-boggling.

The reader is (on the whole) left to make their own judgements on matters of morality and religion, and while he is an evolutionist he states that scientists still have no clear answer as to how it began (pp 231-232).

It is better informed than Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything', and a lot more readable/understandable than anything I've read by a 'proper' academic. If you would like to find out just how small you are, without it making you depressed, this is worth putting on your reading list.

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