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.
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.
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.