on 20 July 2009
An awe-inspiring read that tackles what must surely be one of the most exciting - albeit speculative - areas of modern physics. Kaku is the ideal scientist to take us on the journey: clearly well-read, he slips in a medley of references to literature, art, history and philosophy, all of which help to liven up the narrative. To the extent that popular science should educate and inspire, Parallel Worlds is a success.
The first few chapters get the reader up to speed with the basics of cosmology and quantum theory. Relativity, the big bang, black holes - it's all touched on capably if briefly. Then we reach supersymmetry and string/M-theory. For the uninitiated this might be harder-going, but it's worth persevering. The following chapters are the most thought-provoking of all, including the section on cutting edge science - gravity wave detectors, dark matter detectors, particle accelerators, etc - which leave you eagerly anticipating the potential discoveries of the next few years.
The anthropic principle sets the scene for the remainder of the book, beginning with a humbling account of just how many of the familiar constants of the universe lie within a very narrow band that makes life possible. This is the best summary of the "goldilocks zone" that I have read. Also humbling - but in a more depressing way - is the chapter that examines the inevitable long-term fate of our expanding and ever-cooling universe, as the stars disappear, temperatures approach absolute zero and atoms finally come to a halt.
More upbeat, Kaku speculates about how a suitably advanced civilisation of the far future might be able to avoid this fate by escaping into a different Universe. Underpinning this is the very serious business of categorising types of civilisation according to their level of technological development - Type I, II or III. (In case you're wondering, we've yet to reach Type I, and our animalistic instincts and carelessness may yet prevent us from getting even that far.)
Finally, he tackles the big one - the ultimate question of whether current scientific understanding points to the existence of a Creator. (Kaku believes it does, but of the non-personal 'creative force' of Spinoza and Einstein rather than the anthropomorphic prayer-answering 'God' of religion.)
A few quibbles - some spelling mistakes, a lack of in-text numbering to the end-notes, no chapter name at the top of each double-page - but these are minor complaints. Otherwise this is a must-read for anyone interested in our place in the universe (and whatever may lie beyond it).
on 18 September 2013
My son is fascinated by the universe and devours heavy-duty books about the cosmos from a very young age. He is always excited and babbles along about what he has read, only to meet with a blank face which kills his enthusiasm. I feel guilty of sending him to loneliness when pursuing his interest. I pick up this book so as to be closer to my son, to understand his passion and his thinking.
There is another reason. A couple of years ago, son was watching with daddy Brian Cox's programme about the universe on BBC. I caught bits and pieces as a passer-by of the telly. These programmes all propagate the old universe of billions and billions of years! I made a remark, "I wonder what the Creationists would say or how those who believe in a young earth support their view." Husband thought that I was bigoted and too opinionated. I replied, "Who am I to have an opinion on this? I know nothing! I am just saying that perhaps it is intellectually intriguing and fair to hear the Creationists' story, which obviously does not receive as much exposure as the other school." So I pick up this book to educate myself a little of this mainstream view of the universe, its beginning and its end.
My experience with this book is bemusing. First and foremost, here are the author's very own words: "Although I believe we are all born scientists as children, not all of us manage to continue our love of science as adults. One reason is that we hit the brick wall of mathematics....if we are to pursue a career in science, eventually we have to learn the "language of nature": mathematics. ... As Einstein once said, "Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas."... Galileo once wrote, "[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters of triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to understand a single word."" (p.217-218)
Well, then, this book is attempting to write about the universe without one single equation, i.e. in a foreign language rather than the language of nature. Does it make it easier to understand? Perhaps it gives the non-mathematically trained a fighting chance but I must confess I don't understand everything!! In fact, I do not know how much I do understand, so I am not the best judge whether the author has done a great job in popularising astrophysics.
Do I enjoy the book? Yes, in a funny way. I tell you what I have gained from my reading experience:
1) I have learnt a set of terminology, so I can talk to my son (Yeah!)
2) I vaguely understand the Big Bang and the projected end of our world; surprisingly this prepared me so well for the lecture at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre! I actually knew something when we were taken through the Big Bang.
3) I enjoy reading the human endeavour in searching answers, and piecing together the knowledge. It is a team effort, for sure, and yet there is so much competition as well in research progress and be the first! The author has done really well in tracing the history of the development of theories and thinking.
4) I appreciate the philosophical questions that theoretical physics raises. They tickle my mind.
5) I like the wacky postulates of the future. To grasp the physics of them gives me a headache but all the possibilities (as can be seen from the mathematical equations) are simply horizon-broadening. The line of science and fiction becomes blurred, and I may even pick up some science fictions to try.
6) It has provided very good topics to bounce with kids who love to think outside the box and are full of imagination!
On a more serious note, it helps me gaze into the universe beyond my imagination. The world as I know is already amazing enough. With this book, however, I am stunned how much more intricate the "world" is! The visible universe is already big enough for my small mind to contemplate but it has been suggested that there is much much more layers that we do not see!! That is mind-boggling. Although science would like to sway us to say that there is no God, the minute probability of having all the conditions just right for the earth and for us - life - simply makes me feel we are precious in God's sight. Yes, we can believe in the multiverse and the earth and us is just the outcome of averages or randomness, i.e. nothing special or out of the ordinary. But then the implication is that we then have no meaning and have no purpose (although the author argues that we create our own meaning). Science does not answer why we are here. The book spends the last section on how we may escape our doom fate of total annihilation trillions years later when the world as we know it comes an end. If our origin has no purpose and our life no meaning, I would ask why bother? If the end of our universe is our fate, we are doomed. This outlook is depressing.
As to the debate on a young earth or ancient earth, I am not going to make a call. But surprisingly reading this book has not made me more sceptical about God. Instead I feel, echoing Einstein, I have taken a journey to catch a glimpse of the vastness of God's mind! That our world is not eternal, but has a beginning and an end, is totally consistent with the Bible too. Our life is transient and the surrounding as we know is temporary. Does that change our outlook a little? The possibility of the quantum universe is a fascinating mind exercise with the depressing implication: "In a universe where everything is possible, nothing makes any moral sense. He falls victim to despair, realising that we ultimately have no control over our fates, that no matter what decision we make, the outcome does not matter." (p. 353)
Finally I will leave you with this quote from the book, to help us all appreciate how precious we are:
"There is a ridiculously narrow band of parameters that makes intelligent life a reality, and we happen to thrive in this band... On can debate whether this fortuitous circumstance is one of design or accident, but no one can dispute the intricate tuning necessary to make us possible...We often fail to appreciate how precious life and consciousness really are...Countless worlds exist in deep space devoid of life, much less of intelligence. It should make us appreciate how delicate life is, and what a miracle it is that it flourishes on Earth." (p.348-349)
Can a miracle really come out of randomness?
on 18 August 2013
It is some time since I read this, to me, superb book, which is one of the kind that one lends or gives to people because one feels sure that everyone's life would be improved by reading it.
That means that I have been without a copy of my own for some time and felt that a re read was in order, so I ordered a hardback copy which I will be less likely to give away or lend (and not get back, as is so often the case with paper backs ?).
So it is quite a while since I read this brilliantly comprehensive overall picture setting work about of the leading edge of Blue Sky Science.
I have seen some nit picking pedants criticise the odd error in some of the finer details which I feel, given the range and scale of the subjects and recent history covered speaks more about the inadequacies of the critics rather than those of the author.
However, speaking of professional critics I couldn't do better than refer anyone interested to the critics comments on the cover of the book which if I remember correctly are given in the info on the book shown in Amazon.
For me the book is more like reading a "can't put it down' novel that one rather wishes would never have an ending.
Of course with a book covering so many fascinating areas of science the overall story so brilliantly put in a meaningful overall context by Professor KaKu is a never ending one and a pretty comprehensive list of recommended reading is provided.
However, the beauty of the book is that I feel that anyone would enjoy this book, even if they knew nothing about Science which is one of it's virtues (apart from the cost of giving copies to everyone - the only negative for me and hence the hardback which I do not intend to give away or lend).
The history and anecdotes about some of the leading lights in the 20th Century I found particularly beneficial and of great interest to those knowing little or nothing about Science.
There is, to me, a disarmingly likeable overall attitude to Michio Kaku which leaves his style as pleasingly ego free which so suits the role he plays in this book as enthusiastic commentator rather than single track expert with an axe to grind presented by a glory seeker wanting to 'make his name' which I find spoils so many books written by childishly egotistical males.
The bubbly enthusiasm and delight in the overall picture I found to provide a lift that was like playing in tops of the waves with more than enough depth to get one's feet wet but never any risk of becoming saturated let alone drowned in detail.
For me it was a perfectly balanced presentation that managed to present an astonishing breadth of stimulatingly relevant subjects in a satisfyingly educational overall context that left one feeling one's life had been changed for the better by the book that for me put the book in a place of it's own.
It seems a bit to trite to sum it up as 'entertainingly educational' as it was rather more than that, which brings me back to suggesting reading the opinions of the professional readers.
I would recommend this book to anyone without hesitation. The fact that it presents the history along with the cutting edge means that it will never be out of date in any overall sense I feel, particularly for the non technical or those without any particular interest in science very few of whom I feel will be left in that position having read the book.
on 12 July 2013
I have just finished the best pop-science book I have ever read (including Balcombe's "Pleasurable Kingdom" which I found very well-written, perfectly constructed and also deeply touching; a No. 1 until now).
The subject of the book is mind-blowing and it is extremely difficult to stay focused on the reading for a length of time, because it inspires and stretches imagination to the limits. I just couldn't stop picturing things in my head! Certainly, this effect is brought mainly by the information which one could derive from any other book on the subject of the string theory, but Kaku has a great gift of clear, understandable and entertaining writing.
And he simply seems to be a great guy, a person delighted in the mysterious beauty of the world(s) who puts a genuine effort in facilitating the knowledge of it to as wide an audience as possible. I did have to consult wikipedia occasionally, but generally the book is very self-contained: the writing is easy on the reader, and the apparatus helps in managing information.
The book has one disadvantage: it is full of spoilers! Kaku refers to many sci-fi novels that seem like a lot of fun, so if you don't know them, you might risk a spoilt pleasure.
I have the deepest respect for the Author for the last pages of the book, which send an optimistic message: we are here to learn, discover and make changes for the better. We are, right here and now, in that crucial civilisation stage which requires us to be careful and wise so we can perceive and participate in the universe with more awareness and impact than ever before. If we take the right social and moral standing today, we might be able to understand and enter the worlds previously unseen, become the observers who can truly understand and manage life, matter and intelligence. Is it overly optimistic? Perhaps, but it gives us a great purpose to follow, and it's nicer to keep going with such in mind instead of living with the vision of desolation and doom.
on 9 February 2013
A highly and easiliy readable book. Having now read 2 or 3 books from Michio Kaku, I must say I am becoming a fan.
Also having read quite a lot of popular science books, I must say that Michio Kaku is probably one of the best popularizer at the moment. His light style helps you to grasp complex theories and subjects. He lavishly uses metaphors to make the reader feeling more comfortable.
One thing I particularly liked is his talent for summarising clearly and simply most of the historical and current theories. I found even M-theory and string theory relatively well explained.
Again, I am fan of the author, but I found this book was lacking a couple more graphs and diagrams. I think his other works like Phyisics of the impossible or Hyperspace had a bit more "graphics".
Also, unfortunately, his works repeats itself a bit. The first third of his books are usually a summary of the main concepts in physics and its history. The same people tend to come back as well as the same particular anecdots.
Another negative point would be that Kaku's enthusiasm is so great that sometimes I feel he wants to put too much in his book. This sometimes result in a very dense loaded with details, theories and facts that can be hard to digest. In other words, the tempo of the book is perhaps slightly too fast.
Nevertheless, Kaku's books are always mind-blowing. Rarely I felt so exited about reading a book or looking toward reading the next batch of chapters. The covers says it all, "impossible to put down" and its quite true.
As always with these books, the speculation part (generally the last few chapters) is pure eye openning joy to read. The idea of creating a bubble universe from a table top machine or the injection of all humanity's knowledge and entity into a baby universe to save ourselves is deeply comforting but also frightening.
I also recommends "Hyperspace" which also blew my mind.
To conclude, probably one of the best pop science book on physics I have ever read.
on 13 March 2012
Quite simply an amazing read - I have never left a review before but am compelled to do so having just finished this book.
I am not going to go to great lengths to explain why, if you are interested in any questions around the universe, physics and our understanding of these subjects simply buy a copy and immerse yourself in it.
Life changing - I have never stuck so many labels, folded so many corners, or made so many margin notes.
I am by no means a particle physicist, or even close, yet the style and contents were such that I managed to keep up and it is set out in such a way that you feel totally engaged throughout.
One small tip - if you start feeling immensely overwhelmed part way through and wonder just what it all means and why we're even bothering to try to understand, pop to the end of the book and read the last few pages - they draw you back to the here and now beautifully.
One (slightly) negative observation is that it is 5 years old, and a lot has changed since then - but that doesn't matter - Michio's book "Physics of the Future" is on my shelf as the next book to read and I'm sure that will more than make up for the lost time.
on 11 August 2012
This is definitely one of the best science books I've ever read. Kaku's style of writing is gripping and his explanatory talents are unique.
Whilst the title of the book is `parallel worlds', the book itself is an exhilarating journey through cosmology. In particular, I enjoyed Kaku's account of the steady state and the big bang theories, and the conflict between Fred Hoyle and George Gamow whose sense of humour is as good as his brilliant scientific mind.
Admittedly, the reader may find certain sections in the book rather hard-going, but the nature of the subject is complex, and Kaku's brilliant ability to render the subject understandable and even enjoyable is certainly to his credit.
If you tune your mind into Kaku's wavelength, you will find this book impossible to put down.
Very highly recommended.
Author of 'The Cosmic History of the Elements'
on 3 November 2008
If your already a physicist: buy this, but dont expect TOO much
if your not: expect TOO much
in terms of knowledge etc, kaku has the wisdom of a 16,000 year old tortoise. but this book focuses on the "fun" part of physics. its more of an introduction to everything.
it goes through the simpler side of black holes, higher dimentional space, wave functions etc. it also gives some backgrounds about himself and other physicists.
when i say it focuses on the fun part, i mean it explains in a casual sense, no equations, or anything like that.
so if you want to get into physics, or just wanna know everything, then deffinitely buy this book.
and if your going to read any more kaku books, get this one FIRST, because the others focus on a point in-depth, whereas this gives a simpler knowledge of EVERYTHING. so its good to use Parallel worlds as a "foundation" for future knowledge.
on 13 March 2015
Love it. clearly written. Well written. Doesn't patronise. Doesn't blind with science. Tells me what I want to know in a way I can understand, without having a specific scientific background.
on 5 November 2008
The topics covered are profound, mind bending and require a fundamental shift in thinking from what we are accustomed to regard as normal. Kaku has set himself a difficult task in attempting to explain them to a general readership. Some of his explanations are good, but I found parts of book heavy going, especially string theory which is his specialism.
The book falls between two stools, being too hard for the amateur but not a textbook for physics students.