- Series: Edge Question Series
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; 32297th edition (January 22, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062230174
- ISBN-13: 978-0062230171
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (Edge Question Series) 32297th Edition
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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
“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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Top Customer Reviews
"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.
The contributors are a veritable who’s who of science, and include: Matt Ridley, Richard Dawkins, Leonard Susskind, Frank Wilczek, Steven Pinker, Martin J. Rees, Max Tegmark, Freeman Dyson, V.S. Ramachandran, David Eagleman, Robert Sapolsky, Richard Thaler, Daniel Dennett, Howard Gardener, Lisa Randall, Eric R. Kandel, Alison Gopnik, Lee Smolin, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Jared Diamond, and Michael Shermer. One may note that not all of the authors are, strictly-speaking, scientists. The book even ventures into the arts and humanities, including contributors such as Alan Alda and Brian Eno. Of course, this means that the book sometimes veers away from theories that have explanatory power on the scale of natural selection or the neat offerings of physics and chemistry, but these entries often provide some intriguing food-for-thought.
All of the entries are short; some are less than a page and most are less than three. Given the range of authors, the approaches and the degree of colorfulness employed in entries varies greatly. There are few graphics and no ancillary matter (notations or bibliography) except for an editor’s introduction. It’s good bathroom reading, or for any other time when one has a couple free minutes to take in an idea.
I enjoyed this book, and found it thought-provoking. Often it wasn’t the expected theories (i.e. the most parsimonious) that provided the greatest revelatory insights. There were even responses that challenged the nature of the question. One won’t necessarily find all the responses present elegant theories, or that all of them even are theories, but that’s not the point. They are all ideas that have merit in some regard. One will see old standards (e.g. the 2nd law of thermodynamics) from new angles and will be exposed to ideas that might be entirely new (e.g. the Faurie-Raymond hypothesis that suggests the advantage of lefties in fighting.) I found essays on swarm intelligence and frames of reference taking my thinking in new directions.
I’d recommend this book for those looking for some interesting thinking on elegant ideas.