Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Ever wonder if it is possible to time-travel, why the night sky is not brighter, why it is impossible to build a perpetual motion machine, or why we have not had any communication from intelligent beings from other planets? This little book by Jim Al-Khalili, a quantum physicist at the University of Surrey, answers these and several other difficult questions in easy to read language with no equations.
Paradoxes are puzzles that are logical brainteasers, and the author utilizes them in his effort to bring physics to a broader audience; that is, to show that not only can physics be fun, but that once you understand the nature of a paradox, everything becomes much more clear.
The author treats nine classic physics quandaries and a few more philosophical conundrums with comprehensible analysis, showing that they are not actually unresolveable, but merely difficult problems subject to resolution with careful thinking. His explanations, such as why you can’t go back to the past and kill your grandfather, are witty as well as illuminating. (Like other physics popularizers, he includes the wonderful 1923 limerick by Reginald Buller in his text), viz:
“There was a young lady named Bright
Who traveled far faster than light.
She went out one day
In a relative way
And returned the previous night.”
The author’s musings on the tension between determinism and free will are especially enlightening. As a special bonus, he also provides an intelligible solution to the famous “Monte Hall” problem that bothered game show fans for years, in the process giving us a painless lesson in probability calculation.
Evaluation: This book is deceptively profound, appearing simple because the writing is so lucid. The author, in addition to having a resume that would make most scientists blush, is a regular radio and television science commentator – not surprising given his flair for rendering the abstruse lively and accessible. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the philosophy of science.
Published in the U.S. by Broadway Paperbacks, a trademark of Random House, Inc., 2012