This is a very exciting year for books bringing science to the general public.
From timely topics like how science may illuminate our search for meaning to the search (and now discovery!) of gravitational waves, there is much to look forward to on the printed page. As books are published, we at 13.7 will write reviews of some — and we are likely to invite a few authors to write as our guests.
For now, here is a list of some of the titles to put on your radar, selected with some amount of bias from yours truly (meaning, mostly physics and cosmology-related titles):
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, by Janna Levin
A first-hand account of the scientific pursuit to detect gravitational waves — sounds without material medium that are generated by the collision of black holes and other exotic astrophysical events. In 1916, Albert Einstein became the first to predict the existence of gravitational waves, which were finally detected this month. In this book, Levin recounts the dramatic search over the last 50 years for these elusive waves, which are considered to be the holy grail of modern cosmology and the soundtrack of the universe. Levin is an accomplished astrophysicist and a colleague of the four scientists at the center of this book. It is a story that, until now, has been known only to those most involved with the project. The book was slated for publication in August, but due to the recent discovery of gravitational waves, Knopf has wisely decided to speed things up and have the book ready by April 1, while the news is hot.
The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe, by Sean Carroll
Tackling everything from quantum physics to the universe and the search for meaning as illuminated by science, Carroll's book promises to be a tour de force that I am eagerly anticipating. This is a truly macro view of how science and our humanity connects, as it explores the great scientific advances of the past centuries and the mysterious open questions that remain. Carroll's broad canvas resonates with many of the themes we explore here at 13.7 and also in some of our own books. We may not be the measure of all things but we are the things that can measure. If we are dwarfed by the immensity of the cosmos, we must also remember our uniqueness as the only known thinking molecular machines capable of finding meaning as we search for knowledge. Out May 10.
Seven Brief Lessons On Physics, by Carlo Rovelli
I met Carlo in Trieste at the International Center for Theoretical Physics when we were both graduate students in the mid-1980s. Since then, Carlo has forged a distinguished career as a theoretical physicist. He is one of the pioneers of the loop quantum gravity approach to reconciling quantum physics with Einstein's theory of general relativity. His new book is an international sensation, translated from its original Italian into 25 languages. This is great news for science writing in general. There is clearly an international need for it. 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. The book will be released on March 1 in the U.S.
The Penultimate Curiosity: How Science Swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions, by Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs
Roger Wagner, a painter, and Andrew Briggs, a distinguished quantum physicist from Oxford University, collaborate on a book exploring the human drive to uncover the mysteries of the world — and how this drive connects our spirituality and scientific creativity. From cave paintings to quantum physics, the book meshes the authors' expertise and vision in a vivid and thought-provoking mediation on the intersection of science and religion. The book comes out in the U.S. on April 25 and is already receiving raving reviews in the UK.
Editor's Note: Marcelo's new book, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher in Search of Trout and the Meaning of Everything, will hit shelves on June 7. Here's what he has to say about it:
In my own upcoming book, I offer a very personal meditation on how science illuminates our search for meaning as we attempt to connect with nature. The bridge I explore between science and spirituality is fly-fishing, an activity that, together with my work as a scientist, took me to many different places around the world and made me reconsider how we relate to other living creatures. From the origin of the universe to the origin of life and the limits of scientific knowledge, Simple Beauty is my tribute to our humanity as we struggle for love and understanding in a complicated world and a vast, indifferent universe.
Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist — and professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the co-founder of 13.7, a prolific author of papers and essays, and active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser.