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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 January 2015
This 145 page book is about a complex subject -- the universe and our place in it. It is lucid, rational, and persuasively written; a small book on a vast subject which is best enjoyed by the reader personally. In brief, Alan Lightman tells us that the current scientific view which he, as a scientist, is inclined to agree, is that our universe is the result of a random coincidence of forces and events (his first chapter explains this). He also says that current scientific opinion inclines towards the existence of not just our universe but many others. Some may similarly have randomly created conditions that lead to life. However, he accepts that these are based on scientific theories and calculations that are rational, and irrefutable for the time being, there is no way we can prove that there is life anywhere else.

Lightman is a self-confessed atheist although reading his thoughts in this book, one might be forgiven for thinking him to be a Buddhist. He certainly does not believe in the existence of any gods, and he does not believe in any life after death. He believes that we, like every living thing, grows in the time available to us in the space we are in, and gradually, we wither and are gone - like everything else that once lived but are now dead - the one billion people who were alive in the year 1800, for example.

Lightman agrees with the views of Richard Dawkins so far as biology, evolution and atheism are concerned. But he dislikes Dawkins' attitude. Lightman is amenable to people who wish to believe in a personal god or gods. He believes that the scientific people (not science) can live with religious people (not religion). He clearly does not think that science and religion are compatible, but scientists and religious people can be.

It seems, therefore, such a brilliant piece of work will probably attract criticism from Dawkins and extremist religious people.
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on 14 January 2015
This is a gentle, contextualising survey of recent developments in science, pulling together previously published essays. It reads well, reflecting Alan Lightman's liminal expertise (a morning spent leading a physics class at MIT followed by an afternoon teaching a fiction-writing group across campus provides an unusual academic pedigree), and describes something of a personal odyssey too. As the author notes, it is surprising to see just how often religion appears to creep into the discussion in (English-speaking) science faculties, but he treads a careful and generous path, respecting a diversity of views. Readers may in fact have wished for a little more "bite" in the argument, notwithstanding a tilt or two at Richard Dawkins, but this is a thoughtful, accessible and well-balanced introduction to a wide range of topics for the non-specialist. A slightly fuller set of notes and references might have made it more useful.
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on 18 October 2015
30 years ago I studied physics at university, and before then and while there also astronomy and astrophysics.

Given my background you might ask why I'd chose to read a "popular" or "introductory" book like this, well, actually it's easy over the years to forget a lot of things (including our basic wonder at the world around us and universe it forms a tiny part of), plus its even easier to have our ideas somehow frozen in time a decade or two (or even three) ago and be fairly oblivious to advances in thinking and new ideas since then.

Even more importantly, Alan Lightman is a "crossover" author - with both a scientific and "humanity" approach (which I found refreshing), plus he's a damned good writer in my opinion, so I really did enjoy reading his book.

You might then ask why I didn't give it a 5-star rating? The reason was I felt that just here and there (such as when touching on so-called "climate change") he was happy to accept and pass-on popular, indeed "noddy", views (often somewhat political, or "politicly correct" ones too), either because he didn't dare risk being unpopular or controversial or perhaps because he'd never thought of remaining open-minded (as every true scientist should and must) and so questioning it and applying sufficient independent and critical thought in the same way he applied elsewhere (and that might then have resulted in him at least giving a hint that this might be more of a ubiquitous modern religion, or political dogma, than true ongoing ever evolving science)....

....in other words I found the book a little patchy - some really good thought-provoking, and interest-reawakening chapters and then a couple of much weaker ones and now and then a few downright dogmatic and unproven comments stated as irrefutable fact (a very poor stance for a scientist).

For this reason I felt he let himself and his book down a little, but the book is still well worth reading and at times and in places full of little surprises and a real source of pleasure.

It really doesn't matter whether or not he and I were/are in agreement - actually I quite like reading articles and books I disagree with, at least in parts, provided they're well argued and well supported. What I found slightly disappointing was that after having very well explained the need for a good robust scientific method, and even given a very clear (and as far as I'm concerned correct) account of what that method is, he didn't then apply it (directly or indirectly) to every "scientific" topic he covered. Obviously scientific methods don't apply to the topics he included relating to human emotion, or religion, and often not even to philosophical ones either (though usually it does), but scientific methods and principles absolutely should and must to anything of a supposedly robust or rigorous "scientific" nature!

Read this book with an open and questioning mind.

Enjoy it and let it inspire you (as it did me), and teach you new theories and ideas (which it also did for me), but just be careful not to believe *everything* it says, and if possible you should try and apply the methods he sets out to also test what he's then written.... that's all.
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on 4 April 2015
This is a good book and a great mix of what we 'know' scientifically and 'feel' philosophically. Just one thing that could have made it better and that would be a chapter entitled The Living Universe. The book, The Self-Aware Universe by Goswami, gives some better clues as to what is really going one. I hope one day materialistic scientists discover that all that 'dark stuff' is only dark when you look in the wrong direction and that everything is 'alive' but perhaps not-as-we-know-it.

That said, there are some real gems of wisdom here and the author makes some big concepts easily digestible.
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on 8 August 2014
Accessible, informative, thought provoking, witty and deeply engrossing. Alan Lightman respects the reader and the subjects. There is no didactic point of view, he is open about his views as a man of Science but also accepting that Science cannot and does not know all there is to know. The book provides hooks for the reader to formulate his own opinions on some fascinating subjects. An excellent read.
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on 5 July 2014
I really loved this book. It has an ambitious reach in terms of content and is well written. If you'd always wished you'd paid more attention to physics at school to understand the nature of the universe... then this is the perfect book for you. For me the connection of the latest scientific thinking + deep buddhist style philosophical thinking is a really good combination.
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on 31 January 2015
This is a great book. It reminds us that science has allowed us to understand some but not all of the secrets of the universe and that there is much more to be discovered. I loved how the author deals with complicated physics in a user-friendly way and I particularly liked the way the book dealt with the issue of religion in a respectful way. A great book for enquiring minds.
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on 29 December 2015
Interesting and accessible explanation of physics in the known universe, but allowing space for the unknown, the magical and above all for the pull which transcendence has on humans.
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on 30 December 2014
"Yes, we (humans) are certainly a difficult mess of self-contradictions." - so beautifully expressed.

'The Accidental Universe' has been declared one of the best books of 2014 according to brainpickings.org.

I personally enjoyed the last chapter, where the author talks about our future towards, what he calls, a "disembodied existence"... basically living, as half man - half machine, in an almost complete virtual world; but he does think there will be a few of us who will rebel and try to live in the present and visible world and try to enjoy the beauty of the nature.
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on 2 February 2015
This book is well written and encompasses a lot of very interesting ideas/theories for a reader that is just beginning their research or interest in this area but I felt it was a wee bit to broad and generalising for me personally.
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