A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design

Frank Wilczek. Penguin Press, $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59420-526-2
Wilczek (The Lightness of Being), winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physics, longs to find a unified field theory that would include science, art, philosophy, and all the secret corners of nature. In looking for this theory, he asks, “Is the world a work of art?” Or, alternately, “Does the world embody beautiful ideas?” Wilczek aptly dubs his intellectual voyage a “meditation,” as it wanders and leaps among historical figures, times, and concepts. His rhapsodic explanations of the development of science—especially the study of light, music, and subatomic particles—feature examples of visual art that elucidate his themes. However, Wilczek’s ubiquitous parenthetical comments, meant to trace his meandering thoughts, may confuse or irritate the reader. Pronouncements such as “gravitons are the avatars of general covariance” and “the contrast between substance and force particles—fermions and bosons—is very stark” seem self-evident to Wilczek but are liable to remain puzzling to nonphysicist readers, despite the inclusion of a glossary. Wilczek equates beauty with symmetry and conflates art with aesthetics: for him, beauty is quantifiable, not subjective. Wilczek’s enthusiasm is undeniable, but his execution is flawed. Illus. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/04/2015
Release date: 07/14/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-14-310936-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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