cover image The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself

Sean Carroll. Dutton, $28 (496p) ISBN 978-0-525-95482-8

Carroll (The Particle at the End of the Universe), a theoretical physicist at Caltech, marshals an impressive array of scientific information to convince readers that the universe and everything in it can be explained by science. He posits “poetic naturalism” as a philosophy, which for him serves as a way to figure out “the best way to talk about the world.” He distinguishes his poetic form from other variants of naturalism by affirming that there is an underlying physical reality that exists independently of the human mind, and that there are “many useful ways of talking about it.” His determination to counter supernatural ontologies drives the book, and Carroll acknowledges that his philosophy may seem like “an appealing idea” to some and “an absurd bunch of hooey” to others. Carroll can be repetitive, and some of his the anecdotes, such as the connection between Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes, are interesting but tangential. Much of the material here will be new to many readers, but regardless of familiarity, Carroll presents a means through which people can better understand themselves, their universe, and their conceptions of a meaningful life: “It’s up to us to make wise choices and shape the world to be a better place.” Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc. (May)