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This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works [Paperback]

by John Brockman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 22, 2013 0062230174 978-0062230171 0

In This Explains Everything, John Brockman, founder and publisher of, asked experts in numerous fields and disciplines to come up with their favorite explanations for everyday occurrences. Why do we recognize patterns? Is there such a thing as positive stress? Are we genetically programmed to be in conflict with each other? Those are just some of the 150 questions that the world's best scientific minds answer with elegant simplicity.

With contributions from Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Nassim Taleb, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, and more, everything is explained in fun, uncomplicated terms that make the most complex concepts easy to comprehend.

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This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works + This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking + What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Every year, the website—a sort of online round table where experts in various fields trade ideas—asks its contributors a specific question. The 2012 Edge question was, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” (A beautiful or elegant explanation is one that reduces a complex puzzle to a simple set of principles or assumptions.) The responses Brockman, founder of Edge, received range from the obvious (Darwin’s theory of natural selection; DNA’s double helix shape; the principle of inertia) to the obscure (the Higgs Mechanism, for example, or the Faurie-Raymond hypothesis). The more than 100 responses have a couple of things in common: they are clearly written, and their authors are enthusiastic, in some cases downright passionate, about selling their response as the one true answer to the Edge question. It’s an eclectic collection of contributors, too: famed theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson is here, but also actor and writer Alan Alda; noted psychologist Susan Blackmore weighs in, as does musician and producer Brian Eno. A thought-provoking collection that should appeal to both general readers and trained scientists. --David Pitt


“A smorgasbord of ideas.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Offers a rare chance to discover big ideas before they hit the mainstream.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Fun and inspirational. … This engaging collection can be read from cover to cover or browsed as interest dictates, but all inquisitive readers will enjoy it. Highly recommended…” (Library Journal)

“Characteristically thought-provoking and reliably cross-disciplinary, This Explains Everything is a must-read in its entirety.” (Brain Pickings)

“A collection of essays by big thinkers answering big questions [should be] deeply satisfying. And This Explains Everything delivers.” (New Scientist)

“The most stimulating English-language reading to be had from anywhere in the world.” (The Canberra Times)

“Delivers an intellectual mélange you can dip into and savor. ... The reader gets something new at each turn of the page.” (New York Journal of Books)

“A collection that reads like the best TED talks ever. It’s an absolute pleasure to read.” (FAREED ZAKARIA)

“Rich in mental fodder. ... An indispensable way to sample thinking from many corners of the intellectual spectrum.” (Pop Matters)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (January 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062230174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062230171
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 3.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The founder and publisher of the on-line science salon, John Brockman is the editor of THIS WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING, WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?, WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE. He is the CEO of the literary agency Brockman Inc. and lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
231 of 241 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essays of Beautiful Explanations of how the World Works January 26, 2013
This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works Edited by John Brockman

"This Explains Everything" is a wonderful book of essays from the Edge that addresses a question that inspires unpredictable answers. The Edge is an organization that presents original ideas by today's leading thinkers from a wide spectrum of scientific fields. The 2012 Edge question is, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" This interesting 432-page book contains 148 short essays that addresses the question. The quality of the essays range from the 3-word absurdity of "Keep It Simple" to the elegant and profound essay that addresses why the sky is blue through a brief history of converging sciences.

For my sake, I created a spreadsheet of all the essays and graded them from zero to five stars based on quality. Five star essays are those that provide a great description of the author's favorite explanation. On the other hand, those receiving a one or even a zero represent essays that were not worthy of this book. Of course, this is just one reviewer's personal opinion.

1. The book starts with a great premise, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?"
2. A great range of scientific topics. Thought-provoking ideas.
3. Generally well written, well organized essays. High quality value.
4. You don't have to read the essays in orders, you can just jump to your favorite authors or topics.
5. The theory of evolution shines brightest amongst the stars; regardless of the field of expertise these authors have a great admiration for indeed one of the most beautiful, elegant explanations in all of science.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots to think about, some of it new. January 26, 2013
There is a lot to interest, amuse, and enlighten the reader in this volume, but, as you would expect, the quality of the essays varies greatly. Some authors take the question seriously and give answers worth reading. Others, like today's experienced politicians, replace it with one they prefer, and in at least one case, one the author invented himself. Since these essays are brief, they often glide over details and omit counter arguments, but may lead the reader to further inquiry. The best--those by Dawkins, Diamond, and Freeman Dyson--are terrific.

One howler stands out. Stanislas Dehaene begins his essay on The Universal Algorithm for Human Decision Making with the sentence: "The ultimate goal of science, as the French physicist, Jean Perrin once stated, should be "to substitute visible complexity for an invisible simplicity." In fact Perrin said exactly the opposite-- and Dehaene himself actually means the opposite of what he wrote since he argues that behind the observable complexity of human decision making one finds the mathematical simplicity of Bayes' Law,
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating potpourri May 13, 2013
By Tintin
Anyone who reads this book will probably find their own highlights, insights, confirmations, and things to disagree with. This is more than a review, it's the better part of a blog entry, see everythingequalseverything dot blogspot dot com, if you want to see even more. May 2013. Sorry in advance for the length of this!


This Explains Everything, edited by John Brockman, is a string of short answers to a question posed to the Reality Club, originally New York City intellectuals and now online at the Edge Foundation. According to its website, the Foundation tries "to arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

The question 148 people answered was this: What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful
explanation? I liked it enough to go back through a second time and extract tidbits and gems, so this has become more of a book report for myself than a book review, I'm afraid.

There were, as you can imagine, all sorts of answers. Why the sky is blue (not as simple as I had remembered), the origin of money, Bayesian probability, empiricism, organic electricity, the importance of individuals, germ theory, sexual selection. Why Greeks painted red figures on black pots, The scientific method. How languages change. A haiku poem. Some were sweet and obvious. One just wrote "keep it simple" and then crossed it out..

I found amongst them a lot of nice little take-aways: To learn how something works, first figure out how it got that way. Information is the resolution of uncertainty. To have a good idea, stop having a bad one.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Many of those who purchase and then begin to read this book will learn, for the first time, about, a website offering an abundance of resources. John Brockman is the Editor of This Will Make You Smarter (2012) and This Explains Everything (2013). He is also the Editor and Publisher of Edge. As he explains, its purpose is to "arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

He goes on to suggest, "Edge is a Conversation: Edge is different from the Algonquin Roundtable or Bloomsbury Group, but it offers the same quality of intellectual adventure. Closer resemblances are the early seventeenth-century Invisible College, a precursor to the Royal Society. Its members consisted of scientists such as Robert Boyle, John Wallis, and Robert Hooke. The Society's common theme was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. Another inspiration is The Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal club of the leading cultural figures of the new industrial age -- James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, Joseph Priestly, and Benjamin Franklin."

Last year, those involved with Edge were asked to respond to a question also proposed by Steven Pinker: 'What scientific concept would improve everyone's cognitive toolkit?" Here's The Edge Question 2012: "WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?"

There were more than 200 online responses that were then reviewed before Brockman produced an edited selection.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars If this is the edge, I am not going to jump.
It looks like very few women, and almost nobody outside the USA/Northern Europe axis are smart enough to join this party - or maybe they were never invited. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Richard R. Wilk
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Loved it, was a quick read that covered a wide array of subjects in an exciting and concise way. 5 Stars!
Published 14 days ago by Jordan
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book on science basics
Great for readers who are interested and curious about the theories of science and the humanities. Get an inside view from experts in various fields.
Published 19 days ago by rick
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy reading for commuting
Great gift! Good book to read on the train or plane. Stretch your mind and add to your vocabulary. Think!
Published 26 days ago by Julianne Mehegan
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Interesting collection of perspectives, good material for synthesizers. Looking forward to reading the next edition. Input from entrepreneurs perhaps next time?
Published 1 month ago by Peter Schuller
5.0 out of 5 stars eclectic, varied, never boring
fascinating short pieces from 150 contributors from many disciplines, medical, astronomy, psychology etc. many can lead you to other books.
Published 1 month ago by wyly c. parsons
4.0 out of 5 stars educational and provocative
Learn a little about a lot in this collection of essays on hot earth, time, the emotional impact of movies, monogamy, and quantum theory. The variety of authors is impressive. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joseph Merrill
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is fantastic.
This book is amazing. I received it as a present for my birthday and I bought 2 more copies to give to friends before I had even finished. Seriously, just buy it.
Published 1 month ago by Saskia
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Every thinking man or woman should have this book.
Only wish I had something like this when my children were in high school
I have already bought a second as a gift for a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Cliff Cotey
5.0 out of 5 stars I earmarked almost every page!
This is a wonderful collection of ideas in a very effective format. Valuable people are busy. Asking many of the best to choose or propose a pet idea in a 2-page format---no... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Tommaso Toffoli
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