cover image Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

Frank Wilczek. Penguin Press, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2379-0

The universe at its grandest and most minuscule is explored in this beguiling meditation on physics. Nobel Prize–winning physicist Wilczek (A Beautiful Question) elaborates on wide-ranging themes, including the vast size of the universe and minute yet spacious dimensions of subatomic structures; the simplicity of the elementary forces underlying theoretical physics; the delicate interplay between dynamic change and environmental stability that allowed life to arise on Earth; and the deeper unities between the seeming contradictions of quantum mechanics. Wilczek manages to convey advanced physics without overtaxing lay readers with complexities and knotty concepts, and does so by sticking closely to lucid accounts of the experiments and calculations scientists perform to establish how the world works, and by using straightforward but evocative descriptions of natural phenomena. (“Once the temperature gets low enough, the photons in the fireball cease to interact significantly with the other matter,” he writes of the early universe after the Big Bang, adding, “in plain English, the sky clears up, so that light travels more or less freely from one end of the universe to another, as it does today.”) The result is a stimulating and very readable scientific tour of the cosmos. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Literary. (Jan.)