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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Seven Brief Lessons on PhysicsThe Order of Time, and Helgoland, a closer look at the mind-bending nature of the Universe.

What are the elementary ingredients of the world? Do time and space exist? And what exactly is reality? Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has spent his life exploring these questions. He tells us how our understanding of reality has changed over the centuries and how physicists think about the structure of the Universe today.

In elegant and accessible prose, Rovelli takes us on a wondrous journey from Democritus to Albert Einstein, from Michael Faraday to gravitational waves, and from classical physics to his own work in quantum gravity. As he shows us how the idea of reality has evolved over time, Rovelli offers deeper explanations of the theories he introduced so concisely in Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.

This audiobook culminates in a lucid overview of quantum gravity, the field of research that explores the quantum nature of space and time, seeking to unify quantum mechanics, and general relativity. Rovelli invites us to imagine a marvelous world where space breaks up into tiny grains, time disappears at the smallest scales, and black holes are waiting to explode - a vast universe still largely undiscovered.

©2017 Carlo Rovelli (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“The man who makes physics sexy...the scientist they’re calling the next Stephen Hawking.” (The Times Magazine)

“[Reality Is Not What It Seems] is simultaneously aimed at the curious layperson while also useful to the modern scientist.... Rovelli lets us nibble or gorge ourselves, depending on our appetites, on several scrumptious equations. He doesn’t expect everyone to be a master of the equations or even possess much mathematical acumen, but the equations serve as appetizers for those inclined to get their fill, so to speak.” (Raleigh News & Observer

“[Reality Is Not What It Seems] is simultaneously aimed at the curious layperson while also useful to the modern scientist.... Rovelli lets us nibble or gorge ourselves, depending on our appetites, on several scrumptious equations. He doesn’t expect everyone to be a master of the equations or even possess much mathematical acumen, but the equations serve as appetizers for those inclined to get their fill, so to speak.” (Raleigh News & Observer

What listeners say about Reality Is Not What It Seems

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Most compelling physics book in at least 10 years!

Rovelli is terrific. At one point he laments that poetry and science have become exclusive domains. Throughout the book he proves that loss to the reader. The last chapter is simply masterful!

The science of loop quantum gravity is fascinating and Rovelli makes it relatively easy to understand. I am much more convinced that I was after either of Brian Greene's books on string theory.

I should also add that the narrator Roy McMillan did wonderful job with a very difficult piece. I had to re listen to probably half of this book just to get the concepts, so I know what I'm talking about!

49 people found this helpful

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  • 02-17-17

Worth a read

Even if you are not a science person like myself it is a manageable oppty to better understand the magic and wonder of the world.

22 people found this helpful

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Well written but disappointing covering of subject

This book is really not what it claims to be. It is certainly well written, but disappointing, if you were expecting an introduction to quantum loop gravity.

The first 70% covers (quite well) the history of physics, centered primarily on relativity and quantum physics, at what I would say is an average level, understandable to most laypersons.

Then comes the next meager 10%, which is on the actual subject of quantum loop theory, but it is made way more complex and hard to grasp than needed, poorly explained, and only a rudimentary explanation of the subject is really covered, packed into mathematical formulas and other hard to understand tech babble.

The remaining 20% is almost pure philosophy, with little relevance to quantum loop gravity or even physics at all, almost as if the author needed to fill out a bunch of pages, merely to make the book thick enough for people to buy.

13 people found this helpful

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Excellent contemporary history of the continuing evolution of the human understanding of the real world . . .

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this subject matter with the hope that if anyone understands it will call me to explain it. The narrator, Roy McMillan, is excellent, as is the production of this audio book.

12 people found this helpful

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Loop Theory + Philosophy + Poetry

Any additional comments?

Carlo Rovelli is a loop theorist by trade, a bit of a philosopher by nature, and not a little poetic about either.

Let me tell you why these three things make this book very special.

Loop Theory (aka Loop Quantum Gravity) is less popular than its main competitor String Theory. This gives Rovelli a unique perspective, and explains why you probably haven't heard it. For example, Rovelli is certain that spacetime - like all of reality - is granular, and not only that, but it embodies the "relational" aspect of quantum mechanics, ie it is a manifestation of field interactions, not a backdrop for other granular particles to manifest in. As Rovelli puts it 'all of reality is covariant quantum fields'. At its root then: no waves, no particles, only fields. "Space" is no longer different from "matter" at this level.

The philosopher in Rovelli rephrases this: 'We inhabit not a world of things, but a world of events.'

And therein lies the poetry.

Any differentiation among spacetime and matter comes in the "covariant" of "covariant quantum fields". This is the way in which information correlates among things which hold information.

Herein is also how our concept of time emerges from a world in which there really is no time. The world is only these very very very many interactions and information correlations. If we comprehended all this information as it interacted, we would know the totality of the future microstates - ie there would be no need to establish a concept of time. As Rovelli poetically puts it, 'however, had we perceived time in nanoseconds...' we would not have evolved the notion of time. Again, Rovelli: 'Time, then, is our ignorance.'

I LOVE this. It squares so well with my interpretation of the Mary's Room thought experiment (in the Mind-Body Problem of consciousness): either Mary attains color vision (and so much more) from her complete knowledge of all microstates while inside the room, or her books never contained such complete information in the first place.

Anyway, this is a fantastic book. Read it for the science. Read it for the philosophy. Read it for the poetry.

26 people found this helpful

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The Timeline of Human Curiosity and Ignorance

Inspirational. Poetic. Scientific. Historic in Nature. Purely Humbling, Relieving, and Full of Wonder. I wish for every parent to give the gift of this book to their children, every teacher their pupils, every friend their friends.

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Science is about uncertainty

There was little to dislike about this book. If you want a lucid explanation of what science is and of the nature of the universe read this book.

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Best Physics Book of Last 5 Years

Great book, presented in very simplified understandable terms of complex subjects. Really liked his humble dialog, and suggestion that merging of quantum mechanics, relativity, and entropy will be needed to make a complete model of the nature of the universe and matter.

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WOAH! mind blown.

The theories were broken down very well but at times I still felt very lost. I think this is one I'll have to re-listen to but it all is so fascinating!!

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Before being technical, science is visionary

"Before being technical, science is visionary."
- Carlo Rovelli, Reality is Not What it Seems

(5 stars for poetry; 3 stars for precision)

When one discusses matters celestial or theoretical or cosmological it best translates when done in math or poetry. Rovelli has an amazing talent for singing the esoteric, theoretical language of Quantum Gravity. He finds meter with its loops and rhyme in the paradoxes. He is able to fluidly convert the edges of theoretical physics into a language that amateur scientists, the untrained, or even the casually curious can enjoy.

I'd write more today, but I'm heading tomorrow to a land where I can observe better the eclipse next week. May the sun shine, the clouds part, and the predictive abilities of cosmologists continue, at least for another week. I'll pick this review up again in a week+ with some notes and comments about the eclipse and the non-infinite universe.

**** (x) ****

Post eclipse Baily's beads. So, one of the people I met at the eclipse totality (she stayed at my sister-in-law's house in Rigby, Idaho) was Lisa Randall, Harvard professor of particle physics and dark matter expert. I teased her about how it must be tough to hear an Italian physicist proclaim the death of String Theory and that Loop Theory is where it is at. She sniffed and said he was a great writer, but she couldn't take seriously someone who got the basics of quantum mechanics and the date of the discovery of the Higgs particle wrong*. The many errors, and general sloppiness of physics in the book drove her nuts.

I can see Randall's point, but also still love the way that Rovelli translates, even with a certain looseness, Quantum Gravity and the history of physics for layman like myself. It highlights one of the tensions that have existed for years in science. Often, fame follows not just who is RIGHT, but who WRITES well.

As my NOW favorite LIVING theoretical physicist Lisa Randall suggests in her New York Times review :

"The beauty of physics lies in its precise statements, and that is what is essential to convey. Many readers won’t have the background required to distinguish fact from speculation. Words can turn equations into poetry, but elegant language shouldn’t come at the expense of understanding."

* On page 129 Rovelli says "A recent confirmation was the discovery of the Higgs particle, which caused a sensation in 2013." (4 July 2012 was the date of discovery; on December 10, 2013, Peter Higgs and François Englert were awarded Nobel prizes for predicting this discovery). Randall also told me she had an issue with the metaphors Rovelli used. "Metaphors are supposed to make things more clear, not more confusing."

19 people found this helpful