Likely Stories - The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
You may not think that an Episcopal priest is the most likely candidate to review a book on theoretical physics by someone who describes himself as "serenely atheist," but Carlo Rovelli's The Order of Time, which I just read for the first time this year, has quickly become one of my favorites.
Rovelli, an Italian physicist, is well-known for being able to communicate challenging and confusing scientific principles in a down-to-earth way that anyone can understand. In a way, that's what I do for living too--trying to communicate challenging and often confusing things to people in a down-to-earth way. So I really appreciate Rovelli's style.
But his substance is wonderful too, because theoretical physics is a place where philosophy and science often meet, a place where our big ideas about where we came from, who we are, and where we're going can have conversations with each other. In fact,/each chapter of The Order of Time has a quotation from the Roman poet Horace. Poetry and physics, science and literature, in conversation with one another.
Trying to explain this book would be difficult, so I'll let Rovelli help us for a moment. One of the great things about this book is Rovelli's use of similes and metaphors to help us understand challenging concepts. It's as if someone with the soul of a poet also happened to be a brilliant scientist. For example, he says that summarizing what modern physics has understood about time is like holding a snowflake in your hands because, as you hold it and try to study it fit melts between your fingers and vanishes. And that's what the first part of the book tries to do: to study time, and then to watch all the ways in which we think we know what we're talking about when we talk about time... vanish!
In the second part of the book, Rovelli takes us to, in his words, "a strange, alien world that is nevertheless still the one to which we belong," the world without time. The world as it really exists, not just as we perceive it to be.
And in the third section, Rovelli explains why it is that we experience time, even though it doesn't really exist, not at the fundamental level of the universe.
This book is actually really fun! If you enjoy books that explore history, you'll enjoy Rovelli's exploration of the history behind many of the ideas that still govern our understanding of time.
If you enjoyed movies like Interstellar, Arrival, Inception, or even shows like Doctor Who, you'll appreciate Rovelli's explanation of how time and space play, interact, bend, and twist.
If you are the person in the room who always seems to come up with observations about your life that are out of left field, I think you'll really enjoy this book.
After all, science is a story, and what makes Carlo Rovelli's book The Order of Time so engaging is that he is a storyteller, and he never forgets that! And so I hope you'll take the time to check it out.