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On Being: A scientist's exploration of the great questions of existence [Hardcover]

Peter Atkins
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
Price: 10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

17 Mar 2011
In this scientific 'Credo', Peter Atkins considers the universal questions of origins, endings, birth, and death to which religions have claimed answers. With his usual economy, wit, and elegance, unswerving before awkward realities, Atkins presents what science has to say. While acknowledging the comfort some find in belief, he declares his own faith in science's capacity to reveal the deepest truths.

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On Being: A scientist's exploration of the great questions of existence + Four Laws That Drive the Universe + Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (17 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199603367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199603367
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 249,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


a paean to science (Times Literary Supplement)

genuine enjoyment (Times Higher Education Supplement)

Peter Atkins answers...succinctly and elegantly. (Nature)

An effortless read - a real page turner. (BBC Focus)

About the Author

Peter Atkins is Fellow of Lincoln College, University of Oxford. A leading chemist and writer of widely adopted textbooks, he is the author of Galileo's Finger and Four Laws, among other works.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A sweep through the past, present and future 20 Mar 2011
By Nozza
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a well thought through book looking at some of the great questions for mankind; how did we get here? Why are we here?, and finally, Where are we going? A secularist book, Atkins delves into his view of the answers with clarity. The book's style can make it hard going - it's as if he is lecturing to an audience of grammar school adults, and sometimes this comes through as being a little patronising. But this is the author's didactic voice coming through, his professional lecturing techniques being used to underline or illustrate the narrative.

And it is the narrative that comes to the fore throughout this book. In places this is a tough book to read through, with complex ideas and thoughts, requiring explanation, being dealt with in detail. But ultimately Atkins is successful. He argues his points well, and his voice is consistent along the way. This is no Professor Brian Cox approach, no populist easy reading, but an academic work with breadth and vision that ultimately leaves the reader thinking and wondering about the universe of which we are part.
Definitely worth a read and it is a book I shall be returning to.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not an easy read 12 Mar 2011
By Birmingham Book Reader VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In many respects this is a super book. I am very much a person of faith and come from a science background. So Peter Atkins style of writing is one I am familar with. Mr Atkins shows us well his background as a scientist. Plus how that mixes with his views of the meaning of existence. I am not sure that Mr Atkins is fully 'sure' himself - which is fine and makes for a good read. This is not a book to read just before bedtime!

It takes time, often reading a page twice.

The section when the Atkins looks at his own death at first I found uncomfortable - but on re reading it can fully understand why it was written like this as it makes me think hard about my ending, my death. Which of course will come - so this read became personal. Even life changing ???

Not a long book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable book in a very un-enjoyable style 13 Mar 2011
By Darren Simons TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The principle of this book is to use scientific method to question the assumptions or conclusions of religious belief; no particular religion is the focus but rather the belief in a higher being as being in direct conflict with science. Peter Atkins, the author, makes clear in his introduction that his belief is in science and the principle that: We have much to learn, and that because something is not yet understood, it does not prove the existence of a higher being or justify religious belief.

The method of writing is clear and I would say non-offensive - it consists of "Here's the science we know so far. Here's some ideas which are pure speculation but are as provable as religion. Make your own conclusions". The topics discussed are Creation, Birth, Death and the after-life. At just over 100 pages it's a short book but it's got a lot of content (I wouldn't have wanted the book to be much longer) and if you're a fan of Richard Dawkins you may well enjoy this.

However, there is an issue with this book which I see other reviews have touched on which is the style of writing. For me it's written in the style of a headmaster giving a lecture to a school assembly describing what information you know already, what you need to know, and when you should consider each point. I really don't think it needs this style and for me is a real negative on the book. There's too much of the author's ego coming through in the book for my liking, the choice of some words appears to deliberately awkward almost inviting the reader to admit their grasp of the English language is not as good as the author's.

In scoring this book, I would have given 5 stars for the subject matter but the writing is a real irritant.. and in a book, that's quite important.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great (...but no walk in the cosmic park). 22 Feb 2011
By Mr. Steve Jansen VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Any book with the mission statement 'a scientist's exploration' in the sub-head should tell you something. Yet I came at this with an open mind... and within a mere ten-pages found myself having to work at enjoying this. But if you can apply yourself, and you have the time to give it, there is much to be gained from On Being.

On the whole, On Being is a great idea: colliding the secular/scientific with the inevitability of answering such a gigantic question about existence in a world possessed of spirituality, to present an entire over-view of what existence surely can be. It's just the right length (perhaps, novella is an apt gauge), and is nicely concise in terms of scope, preferring to include the author's personal preferences instead of provide a one-stop list to the subject of existence thinking.

Yet, for me, On Being fell down because it is just so utterly prosaic. Not so much like a thesis, where scientific jargon renders the work exclusive to the already converted, but more in the line of overly poetic. Don't get me wrong, there's a great deal to commend about this work, and I have absolutely no opinion that the author is anything other than a very smart and crucial thinker. It's just that this book feels a bit too much like a labour of love: The love landing on the author's side, and the labour handed a bit too far over to the reader to affect the required inclusiveness such great thought demands.

Which is a shame, because On Being is a rather brilliant, and somewhat individual take on the idea of romance of great thinking; is free from excess baggage, presenting itself as a kind of anchored, poetic musing when it could so easily have been a chewy thesis.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A serious own-goal for the rational/atheist position.
Generally when I read a book twice in quick succession it is because I was so struck by its brilliance that I wanted another chance to absorb it. Read more
Published 18 months ago by bomble
5.0 out of 5 stars Not offensive to believers
This is a fairly short book which one would have to say comes heavily down on the Richard Dawkins side of the "Great Argument" - God or No God ? Read more
Published 19 months ago by Philip Mayo
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing faith shaking here - but wonderfully written
Peter Atkins certainly knows how to turn out a well-crafted pithy putdown. He knows how to write well. He has several moments of great insight. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mark Loughridge
3.0 out of 5 stars well written - secular scientific exploration of some of life's big...
In truth I am coming from pretty much the same secular starting point as the author, and to that extent I found some of his treatise rather overdone. Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2012 by Don Panik
2.0 out of 5 stars Low-brow stuff
There is nothing in this little book to actually argue with. It is very good as far as it goes (and its very well written) but thankfully for the rest of us there are many more... Read more
Published on 11 Sep 2011 by N Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars i reccomend this book.
hello. i have been a science buff for many years now. i enjoy reading about most aspects of science and science related subjects. i am not a qualified scientist. Read more
Published on 7 July 2011 by SARZ1707
1.0 out of 5 stars Unengaging, repitition of what is already known and not known
Somehow the writing does not grab the reader. The author claims to have and want to inspire wonder at the universe, but the writing is too pedestrian to do that. Read more
Published on 27 May 2011 by Ransen Owen
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Feelings
I found this a bit of a mixed bag. I was reading it off the back of a few good reviews and I was hoping that it was going to tackle some of "the great questions of existence" in an... Read more
Published on 11 May 2011 by Mr. S. A. Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not my cup of tea
There is no doubt Peter Atkins has literary ability and scientific knowledge, and the subject matter of "On Being" is definitely interesting. Read more
Published on 5 May 2011 by zombielover
4.0 out of 5 stars Short review of scientist's approach to Life and the Universe
A sort of short-hand Dawkins - chapters on the birth and death of the Universe and where the Human being comes from and goes to - from a rational scientific point of view. Read more
Published on 27 April 2011 by Mark Shackelford
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