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This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works Paperback – January 22, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0062230171 ISBN-10: 0062230174 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (January 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062230174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062230171
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Every year, the website Edge.org—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

Review

“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)

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years, and I've read some pretty good ones.
David Field
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.
Tintin
The author writes very well in a simple but explicit style which makes it very easy to understand and enjoy.
Elsa Payne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

248 of 259 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
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.

Positives:
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.
6.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Allan H. Clark VINE VOICE on January 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
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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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Tintin on May 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
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!

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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many of those who purchase and then begin to read this book will learn, for the first time, about Edge.org, 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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