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Universe from Nothingby Lawrence M. Krauss
Lawrence Krauss's new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, summarizes the continuing developments in the field of cosmology. In addition to championing these new insights in the study of modern physics, Krauss also frames these advances in the appropriate context of their resulting implications for theologians and deists. Adapted from a lecture he delivered at the 2009 Atheist Alliance international annual convention (and made popular on YouTube), A Universe from Nothing explores the history of the universe from the big bang through inflation to its theoretical endpoint using the most current (and widely accepted) science.
Krauss is marvelously adept at conveying his broad scientific knowledge in as succinct and lucid a manner as is perhaps possible, making it relatively easy for a nontheoretical physicist to grasp the concepts he is attempting to illustrate. Among the more notable and recent advancements that Krauss examines in the book are the discoveries that the universe is now accelerating following the so-called "cosmic jerk" that took place some five billion years ago (see also the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics), the abundance of dark energy that appears to account for nearly three-quarters of the universe's total mass (that resides mostly in "empty space"), and the uniform flatness that characterizes our universe. The majority of the book is spent assembling and explaining the related pieces that together form a picture of the universe which, according to the latest scientific data, seems to have evolved from nothing — in fact, it may have only been able to evolve precisely because there was nothing.
The ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one's a priori beliefs, not the beauty and elegance one ascribes to one's theoretical models. The results of experiments that I will describe here are not only timely, they are also unexpected. The tapestry that science weaves in describing the evolution of our universe is far richer and far more fascinating than any revelatory images or imaginative stories that humans have concocted.
As our understanding of the nearly 14-billion-year-old universe is constantly evolving, there is clearly much to be learned about cosmology. Krauss is enthusiastic in his dissemination of the accumulated knowledge and seems eager to welcome whatever conceptual refinements future advancements will inevitably bring. A Universe from Nothing is not simply a scientific treatise, however, as Krauss considers what ramifications these new insights have on age-old theological arguments.
For more than two thousand years, the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has been presented as a challenge to the proposition that our universe — which contains the vast complex of stars, galaxies, humans, and who knows what else — might have arisen without design, intent, or purpose. While this is usually framed as a philosophical or religious question, it is first and foremost a question about the natural world, and so the appropriate place to try and resolve it, first and foremost, is with science.
Richard Dawkins, in the book's afterword, characterizes Krauss's book as "the knockout blow" to the theologian's remaining arguments in favor of a creator. With a few hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe and a modern physics that seems to indicate that our universe could have only arose from nothing, Krauss's assertion that a god is "unnecessary — or at best redundant" is as compelling as the science he uses to arrive at said claim. A Universe from Nothing, like most books of reason and evidence, will do little to dissuade those who ardently profess their belief in a deity, but as cosmology clarifies our place in the universe with greater precision, the arguments in favor of a creator seem ever less defensible. Krauss, in this eminently readable (and often funny!) book, has ventured further down the road of rationality and empiricism, allowing us a guided tour on the never-ending quest to truly understand the nature of life in this brilliant universe we call home.
If we wish to draw philosophical conclusions about our own existence, our significance, and the significance of the universe itself, our conclusions should be based on empirical knowledge. A truly open mind means forcing our imaginations to conform to the evidence of reality and not vice versa, whether or not we like the implications.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com
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