An intriguing book fully of highly opinionated and convincing arguments.

EXISTENTIAL PHYSICS

A SCIENTIST'S GUIDE TO LIFE'S BIGGEST QUESTIONS

A German physicist digs into a host of existential quandaries.

In her 2018 book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, Hossenfelder, research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, excoriated her colleagues for falling in love with theories that bear little relation to reality. In her second book, she turns her gimlet eye on popular beliefs. More than other scientific fields, notes the author, physics asks profound questions about the meaning of everything, including life and death, the origin of the universe, and the nature of reality. Religious leaders ask the same questions, as do philosophers, gurus, mystics, alternative healers, and outright quacks. Unlike many other science writers, Hossenfelder is less interested in denouncing pseudoscience than revealing that many spiritual ideas are compatible with modern physics. Natural laws contradict others, and still others are “ascientific”—i.e., neither true nor false but unprovable: “Science has nothing to say about it. At least, science in its current state.” Some fashionable beliefs are “more appealing the less you understand physics,” but Hossenfelder avoids low-hanging fruit (Deepak Chopra and Elon Musk make fleeting appearances), preferring to interview and often argue with fellow physicists, including Nobel laureates. Casting her net widely, she investigates God and spirituality, free will, universal consciousness, dualism (whether the mind is separate from the body), the Big Bang theory about the origin of the cosmos, the possible existence of parallel universes, and whether we live in a computer simulation. As the author notes, the “simulation hypothesis” annoys her because it represents “a bold claim about the laws of nature that doesn’t pay any attention to what we know about the laws of nature.” Separating reality from nonsense has preoccupied philosophers for centuries. Nonsense remains as popular as ever, but readers who wonder how to tell a good from a bad explanation can now consult two good books: David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity and this one.

An intriguing book fully of highly opinionated and convincing arguments.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-984879-45-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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