In these pieces, plucked from the last 20 years, Holt takes on infinity and the infinitesimal, the illusion of time, the birth of eugenics, the so-called new atheism, smartphones and distraction. It is an elegant history of recent ideas. There are a few historical correctives ... But he generally prefers to perch in the middle of a muddle—say, the string theory wars—and hear evidence from both sides without rushing to adjudication ... Holt is an amphibious kind of writer, so capably slipping from theology to cosmology to poetry, you’re reminded that specialization is a modern invention ... Part of what makes Holt so exciting is his ability to gather these disciplines under his shingle, to make their knottiest questions not only intelligible but enticing, without sacrificing rigor.
I found Holt’s essay on the Riemann hypothesis to be totally charming. In fact, this was my experience for nearly the whole book. In piece after piece, Holt acts as a model host, giving us only the best bits while paring away most difficulties. As he notes in the preface, 'My ideal is the cocktail-party chat: getting across a profound idea in a brisk and amusing way to an interested friend by stripping it down to its essence (perhaps with a few swift pencil strokes on a napkin).' When Einstein Walked with Gödel mostly delivers on this goal. It’s a perfect bedtime book, with each essay providing a luminous devotional on weighty topics, delivered with a light touch ... Jim Holt...cement[s] his reputation as one of the few pop-science practitioners whose primary aim is aesthetic bliss. Beauty and truth are only loosely conjoined ... he reveres abstract ideas but not their human vessels, and part of his originality lies in how he accepts (and amplifies) the distinction. Holt may be an anti-Platonist, but he seems glad to visit the world of ideal forms. So long as he searches these heights for specimens, I’ll be excited to see what he brings back next.
Holt's book is much closer to a series of dispatches about the larger scientific world Einstein and Gödel inhabited ... they all wonderfully achieve Holt's stated goal: 'to enlighten the newcomer while providing a novel twist that will please the expert.' This is considerably more difficult than it sounds, and Holt does a beautifully readable job ... Perhaps to the dismay of his lay readers, 'beautiful' is a word that crops up frequently in these pieces, usually connected with…math ... Even at the hands of an expert popularizer like Holt, that beauty can be elusive, probably for simply biological reasons ... Science writing of the caliber on display in When Einstein Walked with Gödel is a boon in these times of looming scientific illiteracy. Holt makes his recondite subjects seem not only fascinating but fun, humanity's greatest intellectual adventure – and one that badly needs as many adventurers as it can get.
Some chapters are elegant profiles of scientists and mathematicians ... Some pieces limn the history of a certain idea ... Other chapters are long book reviews, as when Mr. Holt...gently savages ('a book that prizes difficulty but not rigor') a book...by David Foster Wallace. Another book he describes as 'full of the sort of excess detail that mathematicians call ‘hair.'' In this sense it is a pleasure to report that, aside from a few inevitable repetitions between essays, Mr. Holt’s book is perfectly bald.
Jim Holt’s engaging glimpse of one of the great perambulatory pairings in history is the opening essay in his deeply absorbing new collection of writings on philosophy, physics, mathematics, and the cosmos ... Holt writes about life’s greatest mysteries with both depth and humor.
This book does not dawdle. Holt is a complex and rigorous writer examining complex and rigorous subjects. Readers whose mathematical and analytical logic skills are a tad rusty might need to google Gödel’s incompleteness theorem or the Riemann zeta conjecture. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. As his subtitle suggests, Holt is pushing us to explore the ideas that have revolutionized how we see the world, the universe and truth itself. They are messy, complicated affairs, but Holt’s intellectual clarity and lucid writing illuminate them.
Some people like an olive with their martini; Holt prefers a bit of quantum entanglement. Indeed, in this scintillating collection of essays, Holt makes quantum entanglement—and other large ideas, including fractals, infinite sets, and string theory—the perfect enhancement for cocktail chatter. Always lucid, frequently amusing, occasionally poignant, these essays invite curious readers to explore vistas originally opened by exceptionally daring and powerful minds.
Two criteria link the essays: the first is 'the depth, power, and sheer beauty of the ideas they convey,' and the second is what Holt calls the 'human factor'—specifically that the ideas originated in the minds of people who led highly dramatic or even absurd lives ... Holt delivers this feast of wild genius, oddball thinkers, and sheer creativity in his signature accessible style of writing and playful tone.
A collection of incisive essays that make learning about science fun ... Prepare to be wined, dined, and entertained by quantum mechanics, group theory, topology, the infinitesimal, the infinitely small, and the string theory generation, among other topics.