Books

“Books are uniquely portable magic. You just never know when you’ll want an escape hatch.” — Stephen King, On Writing

Carlo Rovelli

The Order of Time

The Italian theoretical physicist, Carlo Rovelli, is a personal top-competitor for the most recent mind-melts.

His book, The Order of Time, is one I’ve read a few times over.

Not all of it, but certain chapters have begged a 3x re-read.

Some of later chapters dove far too deep into the boundless dungeon of entropy and said, “Look now, but never come back. Things will never be the same.”

If you want to warp your understanding of how time exists (or doesn’t) at a quantum level, this is your primer.

The fundamental equations of quantum gravity are effectively formulated like this: they do not have a time variable, and they describe the world by indicating the possible relations between variable quantities.

[…]

And it is this thermal and quantum time, I believe, that is the variable that we call “time” in our real universe, where a time variable does not exist at the fundamental level.

Carl Sagan

The Demon Haunted World

by Carl Sagan

Cosmos

by Carl Sagan

Pale Blue Dot

by Carl Sagan

I have watched a long list of lectures and interviews with this beautiful man. I also read several of his books back-to-back. Then maybe once or twice more.

Carl Sagan was arguably the most popular modern scientist to be syndicated across television and print media while also maintaining practice in the field.

There are more famous contributors to science, and certainly more people know of Einstein and Newton than they do of Carl Sagan.

Some may even cry a fist-shake for Feynman, Hawking or Bohr.

But let’s be real, more of us know the name Heisenberg from Breaking Bad than the name Heisenberg as a founding mind of quantum physics and the Uncertainty Principle.

Few have done more to fascinate the minds of families in their homes than Carl Sagan did.

Maybe not the most prolific theoretical physicist, sure. But, he took the incredible wealth of knowledge he had as an astrophysicist, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astronomer, et al., and shifted his focus to breaking down unreachable subject matter into simpler terms in order to make science and the cosmos more accessible for the general population. Certainly he did this for me.

Try and get your hands on all the episodes of the PBS show, Cosmos with Carl Sagan (not to be confused with the the Neil DeGrasse Tyson reboot).

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Frank Wilczek

Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

This man is one of my favourites, on frequent rotation alongside Leonard Susskind. He has accomplished a sturdy volume, tough to catch up on in its entirety — unless your main focus is deep-diving into heavy mathematics and theoretical physics on a truly academic level.

A great shortcut to unpack the wealth of knowledge and theories he has helped develop over his career is reading through Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality.

Fundamentals is a fantastic read that not only outlines his take on “ten keys to reality,” it teaches you that the keys to reality are not exclusively physical, but can overlap with the metaphysical as well. Take a quick read of his thoughts on building a knowledge base of the universe through “complimentarity.”

Frank Wilczek just won the Templeton Prize for 2022 on May 11th.

Here’s his Scientific American interview about the recent award and his take on past and present positions: “God, Dark Matter and Falling Cats: A Conversation with 2022 Templeton Prize Winner Frank Wilczek”

Also a Nobel laureate (for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction) and the man that helped conceptualize axions, anyons and time crystals.

Buckminster Fuller

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

This is likely the most accessible work from a notoriously verbose author.

Published in 1969, this book is often impressive in its accuracy and accounts of world affairs. I would highlight this as one of my favourite reads over the last few years.

To no fault of his own, Fuller’s optimism for the near-future occasionally misses the mark and assumes the best of us.

In OMSE he predicts that beyond 1969 we will have enough knowledge to put the past, superstition and secular beliefs behind us in the near future. With our new foundation of understanding through science and progress, why cling to archaic beliefs that can only serve to hold us back?

Aside from some mistimed hopes in mankind, he certainly was ahead of his time as a thought leader on economics, politics, science, human nature as well as the universe at large.

Who knows, in the long stretch of our cosmic future, we may not personally live to see his vision of intellect bring harmony, but somewhere along the timeline that optimism may pay out dividends.

If you’re ready for a more in-depth and encyclopedic work, check out Pattern-Thinking by Daniel López-Pérez with citations from R.B.F himself. Good for you if you don’t have to re-read certain pages five times just to make sure you’re not having a stroke. It’s hurtfully beyond my own acumen, but I try to take down one piece at a time.

Bonus points: While not always credited as the first to utilize the Geodisic Dome (this belongs to Walther Bauersfeld in the 1920s), Fuller certainly refined and popularized it based off of his unabated study of organic life, materials and natural structure. Here’s a quick piece on how it changed the world.

Rachel Carson

The Sea Around Us

Written in almost poetic prose, Rachel Carson makes her textbook-level depth in The Sea Around Us feel like a fireside conversation.

In my sailing years, out of necessity and fascination, I read a volume of textbooks on oceans, marine weather, navigation, and marine life.

Unless your survival at sea is based upon reading GRIB data, cloud formations, monitoring which direction birds are coasting aloft, the colour changes in plankton and how atmospheric pressure could affect the next three days of your life, I would recommend skipping the vast tomes of nautical non-fiction and just pick up The Sea Around Us.

From shallows to fathoms, there is an elusive beauty and magnetic draw that lives just off the coastlines of every landmass in the world.

Rachel Carson will bring you there without the toll of expedition.

Surface area alone, water is roughly 70% of the planet, without accounting for navigable volume.

Based on the probability of our self-induced Anthropocene epoch transforming this place into a gigantic salty bathtub, I’d suggest we should all probably know at least something about it.

I’m not sure anyone else has ever written about the big blue with such a calming, accessible language without omitting the details.

Kip Thorne

with an introduction by Stephen Hawking

Black Holes and Time Warps

This is a gem. A way to dig into deep, deep space and theoretical physics before the first photo of a black hole was ever taken, in an accessible language.

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw

Janna Levin

Brian Christian

Brian Greene