- Hardcover: 96 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books; Translation edition (March 1, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399184414
- ISBN-13: 978-0399184413
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 921 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Translation Edition
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“In clear, elegant prose, Rovelli guides the reader through a whirlwind tour of some of the biggest ideas in physics. His passion for his chosen field is evident on every page… One can easily imagine perusing these essays while comfortably ensconced in an overstuffed chair by the fire, a snifter of cognac in hand… The reader will come away…with a deeper understanding of how modern physics has brought us closer to an ultimate understanding of reality.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A startling and illustrative distillation of centuries of science.”—The Economist
“The man who makes physics sexy . . . the scientist they’re calling the next Stephen Hawking.” —The Times Magazine
“Lean, lucid and enchanting.”—New Scientist
“The essays in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics arrive like shots of espresso, which you can consume the way the Italians do, quickly and while standing up. As slim as a volume of poetry, Mr. Rovelli’s book also has that tantalizing quality that good books of poems have; it artfully hints at meanings beyond its immediate scope... [H]is book is a roll call of the scientists who have taken us so far, from Einstein and Niels Bohr through Werner Heisenberg and Stephen Hawking... The lessons in Mr. Rovelli’s book, as elegiac as they are incisive, do them justice.”—The New York Times
“Delightful. . . . The metaphors are vivid, the visions dramatic.”—Nature
“A very slim volume that contains multitudes... Italian theoretical physicist and writer Carlo Rovelli uses a conversational tone to untangle the most complicated yet most beautiful advances in science in modern history... You'll feel a whole lot smarter for having read this elegant, straightforward little book.”—Esquire, The Best Books of 2016 (So Far)
“The writing is elegant and poetic, and Carlo's explanatory clarity is compelling. He organized this short book into seven lessons that introduce the non-specialized reader to the most fascinating questions about the universe, including how we learn about it.”—NPR
“Rovelli has a rare knack for conveying the top line of scientific theories in clear and compelling terms without succumbing to the lure of elaborate footnotes... a breath of fresh air.”—The Guardian
“Brief but eloquent... The slim volume is stereotypically the province of poetry, but this beautifully designed little book shows that science, with its curiosity, its intense engagement with what there really is, its readiness to jettison received ways of seeing, is a kind of poetry too”—Financial Times
“[Carlo Rovelli’s] concise and comprehensible writing makes sense of intricate notions such as general relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology and thermodynamics. Rovelli's enthusiastic and poetic descriptions communicate the essence of these topics without getting bogged down in details.”—Scientific American
“[A] quick, engaging read…fun and insightful…you wouldn’t go wrong taking [it] to the beach this summer.”—Forbes
“Fascinating on every level.”—Daily Herald
“This beautiful little volume playfully introduces its readers to several basic principles of physics in an easy-to-grasp style that will surprise and delight you.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Few writers have dared to compress the knowledge of a century’s worth of physics into less than 80 pages. Even fewer have succeeded with a touch of Carlo Rovelli’s clarity and verve…A sweeping presentation of the great ideas and discoveries of 20th century physics, aimed at readers with no scientific background whatsoever. It’s a joy to read.”—Gizmodo
“A slim poetic meditation... Rovelli belongs to a great Italian tradition of one-culture science writing that encompasses the Roman poet Lucretius, Galileo, Primo Levi and Italo Calvino. The physics here is comprehensible and limpid, and Rovelli gives it an edge through his clear-eyed humanistic interpretations.”—The Independent
“Slim and stimulating…Wonderfully poetic.”—Brain Pickings
“Written to be accessible and to appeal to the imagination of the liberal arts major…Rovelli highlights the beauty of theories of gravity, time, and consciousness.”—The Curious Wavefunction
“Rovelli's offering is a marvelous feast which should ignite a renewed sense of inspiration regarding the reach and beauty of science even in hardened veterans.”—The Millions
“In a world where the public is interested in science, Rovelli is a great ambassador whose passion can be found in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.”—International Business Times
"It was eye-opening for me and truly changed how I will go forward in reading and learning about science."—Amy Poehler's Smart Girls
“For the curious reader ready to plunge into theoretical physics, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli is a short accessible introduction. The chapters are manageable chunks of famous theories, most recognizable even to those of us who don’t happen to have a Ph.D... Mr. Rovelli shows how scientists can not only accept [contradictions between theories] but also revel in its infuriating layers.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Ultimately, Rovelli portrays the universe as a strange place where space-time, the present, the past and the future are illusions, and his unfolding of the mystery and the beauty of the universe is breathtaking.”—Raleigh News & Observer
“An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“This enchanting book…looks at physics as a continually changing quest for understanding our universe, instead of immutable laws of nature... The essays are a joyous celebration of scientific wonder.”—Publishers Weekly
“Rovelli's enthusiasm for his subject is evident throughout, and his conversational tone brings an often dry subject to vibrant life. For those curious about the natural world and who wonder what actually exists outside Earth's atmosphere, Rovelli's explanations will intrigue and delight.”—Shelf Awareness
“Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a science book that reads like a poem, and resonates like one, too.”—Bookpage
“Rovelli does a masterful job breaking down complex subjects, like Einstein's theory of relativity and gravitational waves, into simple, easy-to-understand concepts.”—Law 360
“In Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli delivers physics lessons in a most untraditional way, inspiring readers to think differently, to get excited about discovery, to open their minds, to see beauty in the strange... Exquisite... If you love nonfiction and science as much as you love literary fiction, this is a must-read.”—Lovely Bookshelf
“If you want to understand what gets physicists out of bed in the morning, there is no better guide than Rovelli... Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is an absorbing, lovely book... This is physics as romantic poetry and, by God, it’s beguiling”—New Statesman
“Bite-sized but big on ideas: Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics … makes the mysteries of the universe almost comprehensible.”—Evening Standard
“Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics has turned relativity and quantum physics into best-selling material.”—la Repubblica
“Physics has always been popularized, but professor Rovelli’s book is something else: his prose stands out as pristine and seductive at the same time, with all the substance that arouses a real interest in his readers.”—Corriere della Sera
“Plain words can be utterly beautiful when they tell a thrilling story. Carlo Rovelli's words take us on a great adventure as the human mind reaches out to understand the universe. The book is a joy.”—Alan Alda
“Wonderfully clear and vivid. Carlo Rovelli manages to convey the mystery of very large things and very small things with brilliant effect.”—Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy
“Rovelli has found a new way to talk about science, simple and keen. His seven lessons are as graceful, terse and dreamy as only poetry can sometimes be.”—Paolo Giordano, author of The Solitude of Prime Numbers
“This brief and beautiful introduction to a few key discoveries of modern physics reminds us that the roots of science are curiosity and wonder.”—Lee Smolin, physicist and author, Time Reborn and The Trouble with Physics
“No one should hold office unless they have read Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.”—Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker
“This is a beautiful and moving book that will make you see the world with different eyes. It is soulfully human and yet full of the wonder of the natural universe. Rovelli somehow conveys the scope and depth of modern physics in everyday language without losing the poetry of the mathematical equations.”—Jenann Ismael, professor of philosophy at University of Arizona
About the Author
Carlo Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist, is the head of the quantum gravity group at the Centre de Physique Théorique of Aix-Marseille Université. He is one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory. Rovelli lives in Marseille, France.
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Hitherto, my last experience with physics was a 2nd semester senior class in high school when, (having been accepted to university), I temporarily lost patience for absorbing further conceptual learning. I did, however, have ample capacity for sniggering at the nerds in the class who were capable of using physics concepts, 3 paper clips and assorted other parts to construct a functioning radio.
I read about this book in the Economist. I bought this book, in part, to atone for my high school sins, and also to finally overcome my phobia of the general theory of relativity. I also wanted it as a quick way to get refreshed on key physics concepts in "bite size" bits, suitable for impressing people at parties. (Because To be impressive at parties, everyone really should have their own "elevator speech" ready on the meaning of the theory of relativity, right?)
This book gave me both more—and less—than I bargained for. I still don’t have my elevator speeches on topics such as relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics or black holes; the lessons are indeed elegant but without sufficient detail to fully master the topics at hand. In fact, if anything, the simplicity and elegance of the book have made me feel even stupider than when I started…”if this Italian Physics professor can describe these things so simply and elegantly, I really must be a half-wit, because I’m still mystified.” (Memo to self: avoid elevators or parties for now.)
However, even in its brevity the book gives a good deal more. There is the enthusiasm and excitement that imbues the (even brief) descriptions of physics and related concepts. I came away with a genuine desire to go after these topics in successively greater levels of detail, in order, finally, to conquer them. At the very least I see another series of sessions with a famous Stephen Hawking book in my future.
The specific physics topics are only the most obvious level in this slim volume. It also touches both implicitly and explicitly on the nature of scientific enquiry, insights into the current bleeding edge physics theories and how they’re developed, and (lastly) how scientists think. To read about this in such effective but matter-of-fact tones was extremely enlightening.
The 7th and final lesson in the book is one which I’ve read three times already, because its so marvelous….a homily by a thoughtful soul on the complexities of the universe, the perceptions and complexities of humans inhabiting their small place in it, and a heartfelt wonder about the ongoing discoveries we have in front of us. The final chapter, “ourselves” really is lovely, and could easily stand alone, with or without the preceding 6 chapters.
I’ve given this five stars. Although it didn’t take me where I thought I wanted to go, it took me someplace else, and much better.
In this short and highly readable book, Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli leads us through a tour of what he thinks are seven of the foremost ideas (or "lessons') in physics. These are ideas which have not just furthered our understanding of our material world but which have also expanded our consciousness and connected us to our origins and future. Rovelli’s writing is often poignant and beautiful, simple and without frills and from the heart, and I would be lying if I said the experience wasn't uplifting. Personally I would have included an extra eighth lesson on chaos theory and complexity since I think those are going to be key scientific issues in the 21st century. Also, there is little new per se in here which would not be familiar to physics aficionados. But as it stands Rovelli's offering is a marvelous feast which should ignite a renewed sense of inspiration regarding the reach and beauty of science even in hardened veterans.
The first lesson is about Einstein's general theory of relativity which saw yet another towering validation this year with the discovery of gravitational waves. The Russian physicist Lev Landau called it the "most beautiful theory" and I would say there would be few contenders for that title. The basic equation of the theory fits on a napkin, and the essentials of the framework are both startling and elegant. As Rovelli explains, Einstein's major breakthrough was to realize that Newton's gravitational field is not a field at all but is spacetime itself. That one insight suddenly elevated all of physics to a completely new level and it opened up previously unimaginable vistas - black holes, neutron stars, radio astronomy, the Big Bang - to deep exploration. Here's Rovelli on the essential craziness of Einstein's equation: "Within this equation there is a teeming universe. And here the magical richness of the theory opens up into a phantasmagorical succession of predictions that resemble the delirious ravings of a madman, but which have all turned out to be true."
The second lesson concerns the other big revolution of twentieth century physics - quantum mechanics. Relativity is astonishing but its basic tenets are easy to understand. In contrast, even the basic tenets of quantum theory - wave particle duality, entanglement, the uncertainty principle - have left even the theory's great founders befuddled. Quantum mechanics is unique in the history of science as a theory which is spectacularly successful in its practical applications while at the same time continuing to be virtually impenetrable in its philosophical implications. It opened up vast new areas of modern life to understanding; without it computers, chemistry, electronics and molecular biology would be inconceivable. And yet the sheer weirdness of its laws continues to defy every commonsense expectation. Rovelli zeroes in on one of the essential qualities of quantum mechanics when he says that its laws "do not describe what happens to a physical system but only how one physical system affects another". I find it interesting that the same interactions which lie at the heart of quantum theory also underlie the science of emergent complex systems like the weather, the stock market, biochemical networks and social networks.
The third chapter talks about the Big Bang theory and the architecture of the cosmos. Rovelli wrote just before the discovery of gravitational waves otherwise he would have included them in his discussion but he talks about many other wonders revealed by Einstein's theory combined with many of the tools of modern physics such as radio telescopes and particle detectors. The culmination of applying relativity to the universe must surely be the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the universe, although the presence of what we call "dark matter" leaves something to be desired.
The fourth lesson tells us how the findings of quantum mechanics led to an explosion of understanding of the building blocks of the cosmos in the postwar years. Quarks and electrons, Higgs bosons and neutrinos all make important appearances in this story. The culmination of all this progress was the Standard Model of particle physics, essentially a kind of periodic table which lists all known particles and their properties. And yet unlike general relativity the Standard Model is incomplete. Many of the particles' parameters are poorly understood, and the model itself is incompatible with general relativity. In addition there are ugly infinities arising in the theoretical treatment of all those particles which have to be tamed by artificially imposed mathematical order. These deficiencies make the Standard Model very much of a model. It is in the Standard Model that we start to glimpse the first troubling signs of how much more we have to discover in fundamental physics. But in trouble lies opportunity and glory, and in one sense the Standard Model only points to the bounty of undiscovered delights which must surely lie ahead.
The fifth lesson tackles one of the greatest scientific facing science, the marriage of general relativity with quantum mechanics; a marriage which as of now seems to end in violent, unholy divorce every time we attempt it. Interestingly there is not a word about string theory, probably because Rovelli himself works on a rival theory called loop quantum gravity. There is a capsule description of the theory which emphasizes again the fact that the framework is less about objects themselves and more about their interconnections. In this case the connections are between tiny quanta of space - which are themselves space.
The sixth lesson takes us on a journey into one of the most exciting frontiers of modern physics: the union of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and relativity. This union is wondrous and critical because it can help us understand perhaps the deepest question we can ponder: the fact that time seems to flow only in one direction. As Rovelli explains, the arrow of time seems to be inextricably linked with the flow of heat. The second law of thermodynamics and its postulated increase of entropy tracks with the forward arrow of time, although on an individual particle level this arrow is reversible. Figuring out these conundrums of time and thermodynamics will undoubtedly take us into some very novel territory. In this context Stephen Hawking's discovery of radiation emanating from black holes is surely a promising springboard. Time, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, statistics; it's all here, and it's all tantalizing.
The seventh lesson ties it all up together as Rovelli talks about the ultimate entity that allows us to figure all this out - the human brain. He ponders the delectable paradox that an entity which is composed of particles and fields and quanta can also decipher its own mysteries. Understanding this self-recursive extrapolation should keep us occupied for as long into the future as we can imagine, and it's also what should make us cherish our unique existence as sentient beings on this planet. And yet, as unique as we are, Rovelli reminds us in closing that our lowly origins from elemental life forms and the ordinariness of our planet, our solar system and our galaxy should not blind us to what might be the greatest lesson of all: humility and wonder.
"Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it's breathtaking".