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281 of 294 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 review is from: This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (Edge Question Series) (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.

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. There were eleven outstanding essays deserving of five stars for me. In order of essay, the first by Gerd Gigerenzer, "Unconscious Inferences". It discusses the nature of perception. Excellent illustration to bring it all together.
7. V.S. Ramachandran's "Genes, Claustrum, and Consciousness". He argues that the same strategy used to crack the genetic code might prove successful in cracking the "neural" code. And that's why I read books of this ilk...
8. David M. Eagleman's "Overlapping Solutions" explains beautifully the overlapping ways the brain deals with the world.
9. Andrew Lih's "Information is the Resolution of Uncertainty" introduces us to Claude Shannon the man behind the elegant theory of information.
10. Helen Fisher's "Epigenetics- The Missing Link" provides the reader with the dare I say it emerging field of epigenetics in which the environmental forces can affect gene behavior.
11. John Tooby's "Falling into Place: Entropy and the Desperate Ingenuity of Life" provides a trio of elegant scientific ideas: entropy, natural selection, and frames of refernce.
12. Eric R. Kandel's "Placing Psychotherapy on a Scientific Basis: Five Easy Lessons" discusses the very topical need of treating mental illnesses. Great essay!
13. Randolph Nesse's excellent "Natural Selection is Simple but the Systems it shapes are Unimaginably Complex" makes it very clear that there is a distinction between machines and organisms.
14. My favorite essay belongs to Nicholas A. Christakis, "Out of the Mouth of Babes". It starts with a very simple question from childhood. Why is the sky blue? A question so simple a child can ask but takes many of the greatest minds over time to converge to a satisfactory answer. Philosophy and science as one, now that's beautiful!
15. Alison Gopnik's timely and fascinating "Developmental Timing Explains the Woes of Adolescence.
16. The great Jared Diamond completes the great eleven with the "Origins of Biological Electricity". Interesting, quirky interspersed with some great tidbits.
17. Great authors consistently provide great essays, you can always count on: Dawkins, Pinker, Steinhardt, Carroll, Zimmer, PZ Myers, Atkins, Krauss, and Shermer. They all provided excellent essays.
18. Alan Turing, Galileo, and of course Einstein deserve a special mention. Turing's life is fascinating and I highly recommend reading his biography. The great Darwin goes without saying.
19. Excellent editing.

1. Some essays were not worthy of this book. It's not my intent to denigrate any of these great minds so I'm not going to mention them by name. Thankfully just a few received zero stars.
2. I'm disappointed that no one mentioned Henrietta Swan Leavitt the astronomer who discovered how to calculate the distance from the stars. Or Barbara McClintock's genetic transposition. And of course one can never go wrong with Marie Curie. You know where I'm going with this...just an observation.

In summary, this is an interesting and fun book of essays for inquisitive minds. Philosophy is about asking the right questions and good science is about answering them. A perfect balance of elegance is attained when the right question is responded in turn with a sound, succinct scientific response. This book contains a wide range of responses from my favorite eleven to some not worthy of the book, but overall a fun and enjoyable read. I recommend it!

Further suggestions: "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss, "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins, "The Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness BYKean" by Sam Kean, "The Tell-Tale Brain" by V.S. Ramachandran, "The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer, "How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed" by Ray Kurzwell, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker, "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, and "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 27, 2013 4:01:42 AM PST
Harris M. says:
This review is the archetype for how Amazon reviews should be written. Well done. Kudos. Props. You go!

Posted on Jan 27, 2013 9:01:46 AM PST
Agreed, and the suggestions for further reading are the icing on the cake!

Posted on Jan 27, 2013 12:11:20 PM PST
Julie Klopp says:
All I can add is: Wow!

Posted on Jan 29, 2013 8:33:35 AM PST
roshan says:
Holy Shit! Never have been amazed by the thoroughness of this review. Sure, there are plenty of funny reviews in Amazon, but this is the one that should be the standard to which all reviews measure to

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 4, 2013 5:02:07 PM PST
Book Shark says:
Thanks for the kind words. It's really appreciated.

Posted on Mar 21, 2013 10:01:19 AM PDT
Belize Guy says:
Thank you for taking the time to write this extremely helpful review. Simply excellent and very much appreciated.

Posted on Mar 29, 2013 9:09:59 AM PDT
Beautiful review. Thanks!

Posted on Apr 7, 2013 11:17:30 AM PDT
John StJohn says:
Thank you for your well written, very helpful review. I plan to use it as a guide when I read the book. Also, thanks for the suggested reading list.

Posted on Jun 24, 2013 10:28:56 PM PDT
Eun Kyung Ho says:
Very helpful review! Thank you.

Posted on Jul 6, 2013 11:00:50 AM PDT
djlebanza says:
Thanks so much for your work on this; agree completely, but you 'said' it better than I could have....DJS MD,JD
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