BOOK REVIEW

Physicist makes astrophysics accessible in new book


Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 12:33 p.m.

In fall 2009, the theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss gave a talk about recent discoveries in cosmology that he engagingly titled, "A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing."

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‘A Universe From Nothing' By Lawrence M. Krauss; Simon & Schuster; 202 pages; $24.99

The popularity of the video, viewed nearly a million times on YouTube, prompted Krauss to develop the ideas in the talk into this short, elegant account of the origins of our universe and its likely demise trillions of years from now.

The best-selling author of "The Physics of Star Trek," Krauss possesses a rare talent for making the hardest ideas in astrophysics accessible to the layman, due in part to his sly humor. In another universe, Krauss could have been a stand-up comedian.

Indeed, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who contributes an afterword to the book, dubs his friend the "Woody Allen of cosmology."

In less than 200 pages, Krauss walks us through a hundred years of mind-bending breakthroughs in astrophysics, which have led scientists to the inescapable conclusion that our universe sprang out of nothing — "without design, intent or purpose" — and is destined to return to that bleak, cold, dark space.

A professor at Arizona State University, Krauss clearly relishes his iconoclastic role, gleefully demolishing all theories of creation that require a creator — that is, most religions. In the early 2000s, when he was teaching physics at Case Western Reserve University, he very publicly took on creationists in a fight over the science curriculum in Ohio public schools.

But one has to hope that this book won't appeal only to the partisans of the culture wars — it's just too good and interesting for that. Krauss is genuinely in awe of the "wondrously strange" nature of our physical world, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Here he is explaining how every atom in our bodies was forged billions of years ago in the nuclear furnaces of exploding stars: "We are all, literally, star children, and our bodies made of stardust." The book bursts with such poetic conceits.

For Krauss, the prospect of a godless universe is "invigorating," not scary. "It motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions," he writes, "and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun."

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