Jim Holt's ontological search for the raison d'être of reality itself is perfect for all existential detectives and metaphysical gumshoes, those who wonder how and why this very moment, this particular concrete moment, is even possible. As a fellow private eye investigating the cold case of existence, I highly, deeply, and widely recommend this book. Recommended By Jonathan V. B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Tackling the “darkest question in all of philosophy” with “raffish erudition” (Dwight Garner, New York Times), author Jim Holt explores the greatest metaphysical mystery of all: why is there something rather than nothing? This runaway bestseller, which has captured the imagination of critics and the public alike, traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. Holt adopts the role of cosmological detective, traveling the globe to interview a host of celebrated scientists, philosophers, and writers, “testing the contentions of one against the theories of the other” (Jeremy Bernstein, Wall Street Journal). As he interrogates his list of ontological culprits, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God versus the Big Bang. This “deft and consuming” (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times) narrative humanizes the profound questions of meaning and existence it confronts.
"Holt has a religious temperament, if not a religion, and he thinks the notion of God is a possible explanation of the mystery of being rather than the reverse or the refusal of one....[He] is an expert juggler of the paradoxes that go with so many kinds of negation...the fun of his quest has to do not only with what he wants to know but with his eagerness for live dialogue." Michael Wood, London Review of Books
"A guided tour of ideas, theories and arguments about the origins of the universe….Through discussions with philosophers of religion and science, humanists, biologists, string theorists, as well as research into the scholarship of days past — from Heidegger, Parmenides, Pythagoras and others — and an interview with John Updike, Holt provides a master's-level course on the theories and their detractors. The interludes find the author positioning himself as an existential gumshoe, but also working through the sudden loss of a pet and, later, the death of his mother. Holt may not answer the question of his title, but his book deepens the appreciation of the mystery." Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine
"If Jim Holt's deft and consuming Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story has anything to tell us, it's that such a comment is less about literary riffing than deep philosophy." David Ulin
"The pleasure of this book is watching the match: the staggeringly inventive human mind slamming its fantastic conjectures over the net, the universe coolly returning every serve....Holt traffics in wonder, a word whose dual meanings — the absence of answers; the experience of awe — strike me as profoundly related. His book is not utilitarian. You can’t profit from it, at least not in the narrow sense....And yet it does what real science writing should: It helps us feel the fullness of the problem." Booklist
"He [Jim Holt] leaves us with the question Stephen Hawking once asked but couldn't answer, ‘Why does the universe go through all the bother of existing?’" Kirkus Reviews
"An elegant and witty writer converses with philosophers and cosmologists who ponder the question of why there is something rather than nothing." New York Times
About the Author
Jim Holt, a prominent essayist and critic on philosophy, mathematics, and science, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City.