Thursday, January 10, 2019

Books I'm Reading: A Beautiful Question

The last book I read in 2018, Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek's A Beautiful Question (Penguin, 2015) is one of those books that you immediately want to re-read the moment you're finished with it because it handles such difficult subject matter.

I periodically subject myself to these books on physics, because I want to understand what human beings so far understand about the universe, but I never seem to make much progress. The fault is mine, not the author's.

Wilczek lays out the now-familiar history of the development of quantum physics but approaches the story from a somewhat unusual perspective. His focus throughout the book is on beauty and idealizations of reality and the relationship of these to actual reality as we understand it. His greatest pleasure is in pointing out how human intellect, inspired by notions of the ideal, has arrived at solutions to basic problems that in large part conform to expectations—and in this symmetry, this conformance of real to the ideal, he sees great beauty. He looks at the universe as envisioned by Pythagoras, Socrates, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and then by physicists of the modern era, pointing out along the way how our understanding of the universe points to a positive answer to the question he initially posits "Does the universe embody beautiful ideas?"

I see that I read only 14 books in 2018, which seems a shamefully small number. That's a book every 3.7 weeks. I'd like to be near one every two weeks, at the very least.... So many books. I will have to try harder in 2019.

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