Synopses & Reviews
Unusually gifted as both a physicist and a novelist, Alan Lightman has lived in the dual worlds of science and art for much of his life. In these brilliant essays, the two worlds meet. In A Sense of the Mysterious
, Lightman records his personal struggles to reconcile certainty with uncertainty, logic with intuition, questions with answers and questions without. Lightman explores the emotional life of science, the power of metaphor and imagination in science, the creative moment, the different uses of language in science and literature, and the alternate ways in which scientists and humanists think about the world. Included are in-depth portraits of some of the great scientists of our time: Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Edward Teller, and astronomer Vera Rubin. Rather than finding a forbidding gulf between the two cultures, as did the physicist and novelist C. P. Snow fifty years ago, Lightman discovers complementary ways of looking at the world, both part of being human.
Original, thoughtful, and beautifully written, A Sense of the Mysterious confirms Alan Lightman's unique position at the crossroads of science and art.
"Not unlike its author, this collection is difficult to categorize. Lightman, a physicist and author of four acclaimed novels (The Diagnosis was a National Book Award finalist) as well as several books on science, offers essays (some recent, some dating back as far as 1984) that are neither scientifically substantial nor intellectually lightweight, all touching in one sense or another on the human dimensions of science the passion it inspires, the use of mathematical abstraction in granting us the ability to grasp the material world, the wonder of Einstein's 'sense of otherness... even alienation.' He seems to be thinking out loud. The pieces oddly mix personal observation with narrative biography and evolve out of jazzlike riffs on a given topic. Whether the topic is the life of a prominent scientist (like Albert Einstein, Edward Teller or Richard Feynman) or the role of metaphor in science, each essay circles around its subject. The book's value lies in Lightman's perspective rather than in his handling of concrete information; musing on the difficulties of reaching the age of 35 (in a profession where one is then past one's prime) are far more intriguing and far more revealing than when attempting to draw something new out of the oft-told biographies of Nobel Prize winners like Einstein or Feynman. Agent, Jane Gelfman." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A thoughtful and evocative collection." Kirkus Reviews
"Whether you are a fan of Lightman's writing (e.g., Einstein's Dreams) or have not yet experienced his astonishingly heartfelt reflections on science, this collection of 11 previously published essays is a wonderful leisure read." Library Journal
"A Sense of the Mysterious is a fine introduction to the excitement and pleasures of science by a scientist who is a humanist in the noblest sense of the word." Los Angeles Times
"Lightman is at his best while contemplating the similarities and differences between the arts and sciences and who better to do so?" San Francisco Chronicle
"Like Oliver Sacks, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and countless others, Lightman is that phenomenon mistakenly believed to be rare: a scientist in love with words, one who can write clearly and appealingly about his subject for a lay readership." Sophie Harrison, The New York Times Book Review
From the gifted scientist-author of the acclaimed novels Einstein's Dreams and The Diagnosis comes his first collection of essays in more than 15 years; 11 original, insightful, and beautifully written pieces that explore the creative nature of the scientific endeavor.
About the Author
Alan Lightman was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and educated at Princeton and at the California Institute of Technology, where he received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. An active research scientist in astronomy and physics for two decades, he has also taught both subjects on the faculties of Harvard and MIT. Lightman’s novels include Einstein’s Dreams, which was an international best seller; Good Benito; The Diagnosis, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and Reunion. His essays have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Nature, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker, among other publications. He lives in Massachusetts, where he is adjunct professor of humanities at MIT.