Book of da Week: Reality is Not What it Seems by Carlo Rovelli

Reality is Not What it Seems by Carlo Rovelli
Eh?!

After the surprise success of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (2014), Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli has turned his attention towards simplifying other impossibly complex modern scientific things. The result is Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (2017), a magnificent account of modern science, physics, and where humanity truly is with existence, time, the Universe, and all that stuff.

For laymen such as ourselves, not possessing a scientific or mathematical mind, the world of physics can appear to be impenetrable. What Rovelli has realised is a lot of people are in a similar situation and not sure how to get into such a complex world, so he’s gone out there, used his education and research, and delivered two works which simplify an area which, really, must take an enormous amount of skill to make accessible.

Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a good starting point for the bigger themes explored in this rather excellent book. With his first outing, and in under 100 super short pages, Rovelli simplifies the likes of Albert Einstein’s revolutionary theories, which the German dropped on the world at the start of the 20th century – four articles known as the Annus Mirabilis papers he delivered to the Annalen der Physik in 1905, all of which are worthy of a Nobel Prize.

Reality is Not What it Seems delves deeper into this world in larger form – Rovelli, rather usefully, starts at the beginning of serious scientific discovery in Miletus, ancient Greece, some 26 centuries ago. Famous names such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Democritus (who formulated an atomic theory of the Universe, essentially starting the study of physics) were hard at work, but after religious fanaticism took over many of their works were destroyed and it wasn’t until the 19th century that atomic theory began to be taken seriously.

Prior to this, one Nicolaus Copernicus proposed the heretic Heliocentric concept of the Earth revolving around the Sun (i.e. humans aren’t the centre of the Universe and all special). After Isaac Newton came up with this thing called “gravity”, our concept of reality was propelled forward further still by genius minds Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century, before being given a massive boot up the backside by Einstein.

Thusly, in a succinct nutshell, scientific discovery was flying during antiquity, before being curtailed for a thousand years or so by religious fervours of the time. Progressivism was unstoppable, however, and the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras opened up a world of discovery and wonder. This, essentially, is where the heart of Rovelli’s work begins, after detailing this human exploration and progress in a brilliant opening 50 pages.

Subsequent chapters take on more complex concepts, such as quantum space, relational time, black holes, and the end of infinity. Rovelli, essentially, lays out a coherent story of where modern physics is currently at and what the future could hold with regard to our eventual understanding of humanity, existence, and the Universe. It’s an excellent book and one you should simply read, rather than checking out our blockheaded detailing of its contents. So, give it a whirl. This is one for the ages.

Carlo Rovelli

This man has rapidly risen, in recent years, as one of the most recognisable physicists out there. He states in the opening section of Reality is Not What it Seems how it was a surprise to him when his first book became an international bestseller. Released in his native Italy first, it stormed the charts and was promptly translated into dozens of different languages, helping to bring complex science to a generation of sorts unfamiliar with it all.

It’s a real skill to take concepts as fantastical and all-encompassing as this and explain it in a way the wider world, more used to busying itself with obtaining power, wealth, and a slimmer waistline, and to hit a raw nerve and find international press and public interest. Full credit to Rovelli – we greatly look forward to his future works.

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