In this collection of essays, the bestselling author of Einstein's Dreams tries to square science with spirituality, drawing on experiences from his own life as well as the lives of history's great secular and religious thinkers.
Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine is what we can call a grand unified intellectual narrative ... The book comprises 20 short vignettes, each dedicated to a big idea — stars, truth, centeredness, death — weaving together expected and unexpected sources. The sections are short but thoughtful, allowing the reader to savor a piece at a time or to make a meal of the whole ... the book does, at points, feel like Chicken Soup for the Materialist’s Non-Existent Soul, but those moments are few, in a work of great range, sensitivity and thoughtfulness ... Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine demonstrates Lightman’s ability to make the most abstract notions accessible to all. No background is needed in physics, philosophy, religion or any other field to fully understand every step of the wide-ranging intellectual trek. No matter who you are, you will emerge ready to be more impressive at your next dinner party.
Each twig, ant hill or rounded stone—as well as the starry backdrop of the book’s title—serves as muse for Mr. Lightman’s speculations about the physical and metaphysical realms. The elegant and evocative prose draws in the reader, and I felt as if I were strolling alongside the author while he thought aloud. Indeed, it was a challenge to keep pace, as I repeatedly wandered off into reveries triggered by the narrative. Here is a book in which even a colonoscopy becomes grist for the philosophical mill ... Mr. Lightman’s cognitive turmoil is summed up in a reflection on the death of his parents, in which he reluctantly accepts the 'impossible truth' that they no longer exist. 'I wish I believed,' he adds poignantly.
Lightman does not possess Calvino’s structural rigour, his brilliant hold on irony as the defining principle of the human condition, but his discursive method is full of insight into some of the mysteries of the physical world, as well as the physics of mystery. He uses his own biography – the little science lab he created in his bedroom closet in Memphis, Tennessee, aged 12 – to demonstrate an intact sense of wonder at what we know and what we don’t. At the heart of his mediation is this neat formulation of the boundaries of scientific understanding: 'The infinite is not merely a lot more of the finite.' Lightman has a sympathetic gift for recreating the leaps of faith in scientific advance ... At the same time, he feels himself in a wonderland of shifting scales. He maps out the heavens, concentrates on the veins of a leaf, tries to fathom the evolution of the humming bird, the veracity of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and returns often to the thrilling chutzpah of Einstein rethinking time and space. Does he end up much the wiser after this latest record of attention to his pattern-making mind? Of course not. Does that make the effort of tracking his progress worthwhile? Of course.