cover image Frequently Asked Questions About the Universe

Frequently Asked Questions About the Universe

Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson. Riverhead, $28 (336) ISBN 978-0-593-18931-3

Physicist Whiteson and cartoonist Cham (We Have No Idea) bring their podcast Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe to the page in this amusing intro to the mysteries of the cosmos. Their survey is structured in a q&a format, and they admit that answering some questions only leads to more questions: they begin their exploration with “Why can’t I travel back in time?”—and reveal that it might be possible, with the caveat that they’re using the physicist’s version of “possible,” as in “not prevented by the laws of physics.” Other questions considered include “Why haven’t aliens visited us? Or have they?” (there’s “a lot we don’t know,” they answer); “Is an asteroid going to hit the Earth and kill us all?” (chances are “not that high”); and “Is an afterlife possible?” (according to physics, quantum information can’t be destroyed by the universe—so kind of). Along the way, they explain complex scientific ideas with humor: given the surface area of Mars, they write, even if trillions of dollars are spent to make it habitable, it’ll “still be cheaper by area than real estate in California.” The authors’ answers always feel fresh, and Cham’s fun cartoons are a treat. Entertaining and satisfying, this is sure to please. (Nov.)