From the acclaimed author of Einstein's Dreams, a collection of meditative essays on the possibilities — and impossibilities — of nothingness and infinity, and how our place in the cosmos falls somewhere in between.
Probable Impossibilities maintains [a] syncretic spirit, tackling big questions like the origin of the universe and the nature of consciousness, always in an entertaining and easily digestible way ... One of the best pieces in Mr. Lightman’s consistently thought-provoking book describes a journey to Memphis following the death of his last surviving parent. This is the humanist side to balance the scientific one. The materialist Alan Lightman sees no contradiction in also being spiritual, though the term needs clarification.
The anthology, which covers a mix of history and physics, is organized into 17 related essays that explore the seeming paradoxes inherent in an ineffably large cosmos. Through vignettes and journal entries, Lightman offers observations in a tone that is edifying and companionable – a bonus for those of us who are not theoretical physicists like the author ... In particular, Lightman’s colorful similes – strewn like Easter eggs throughout the essays – offer greater understanding ... The small human details Lightman includes about his interviewees are also delightful ... But there are moments when the mix of intimate reflection and cosmic material feels unbalanced. The middle of the collection enters the doldrums when Lightman’s essays give too much attention to his personal life and lose a sense of galactic wonder ... The occasional repetition of words and ideas also trip up the collection ... Lightman also references the same passage of John Milton’s Paradise Lost more than once ... Still, curious readers will likely find ample room to marvel at peculiarities of the universe.
Complex science made accessible ... As in his previous books of both nonfiction and fiction, Lightman is once again our helpful, genial guide to the mysteries of the universe ... A roaming, eye-opening, insightful, and literate collection of science writing.