This book started out slow and then became an epiphany. The book is set against the backdrop of the greater Santa Fe area of New Mexico. Johnson uses places and cultures in this area as a vehicle to lead into his description of current scientific thinking in cosmology and evolution. I didn't understand the connection at first, but one piece of rationale did emerge: the various high-powered scientific conferences held at the Santa Fe Institute beginning in 1989 that dealt with information and physics. This is where the epiphany came in, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The other reason he used this backdrop, I believe, is his obvious love for the area - its history, geography, and cultures.
The first part of his book is a fairly straightforward tour of cosmology, albeit at a bit more intellectual level than most popular descriptions. One theme he starts with, and to which he returns several times throughout the book, is that our interpretation of the universe is determined by our inherited ability to understand, by our genetic evolution. That is to say, we see the universe through our own lens, tempered by our limitations. Nothing startlingly different here from my previous readings. In fact, it's rather intuitive. However, he delves into chaos theory, with which I am only slightly acquainted, and brings attractors into the discussion, about which I know nothing. The point about attractors is that they may account for the evolution of the universe (and, as I would see later, the evolution of complex organisms on Earth). Things were starting to warm up.
He goes on into an understandable discussion of quantum mechanics and quantum physics. Wrapped in here is the epiphany: the fundamentals upon which the universe are built (as we understand it) are mass, energy, space and time. To these we have added information -- a fifth fundamental that is as much a part of existence and evolution, and cause and effect as any of the other four. His weaving of the significance of information into the tale of the evolution of complex organisms is all new to me, as is the concept that information is such a "real" player in the universe. It plays a role in entropy and a fundamental role in evolution, starting with organic molecules -- order leads to complexity, which leads to chaos.
I struggle with how to summarize him. I have flagged several dozen pages. To try to review them will be like rereading most of the book. This is one that I may, in fact, reread.