The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos

Leonard Mlodinow. Pantheon, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-90823-0
Mlodinow (Subliminal), a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, opens his powerful new book with a story about his father, who as a starving prisoner at Buchenwald once traded his bread for the answer to a riddle. He writes that upon hearing his father’s story, he “realized then that search for knowledge is the most human of all our desires.” That is the recurring theme as Mlodinow follows scientific thought from its birth in prehistoric man to its blossoming in Aristotle, Newton, Lavoisier, Darwin, Einstein, and beyond. He discusses the intransigence of belief in a natural world ruled by gods before Aristotle and the subsequent intransigence of belief in a natural world ruled by too many erroneous Aristotelean precepts. He notes the suffering that can accompany the pursuit of knowledge—such as that of Galileo—as well as the enormous, wordless satisfaction. Breathing new life into science history, he frames narratives of great thinkers with serial scenes of his father’s great courage and curiosity, despite only having a seventh-grade education. Mlodinow’s point has been made before, but rarely so well: the quality that best distinguishes—and honors—humankind is not an ability to answer questions, but that “after millennia of effort,” nothing stops us from asking them. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/09/2015
Release date: 05/05/2015
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-345-80443-3
Compact Disc - 10 pages - 978-0-553-55111-2
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