From the Voyager mission to detecting the merging of black holes over a billion years ago, an argument for the pleasures of theoretical thinking
A physicist friend of mine once had a terrible spate of misfortune. Her flat was burgled, her cat was run over, and her grandfather died, all in the same week. Needing a bit of TLC, she went to see her professor, who offered three words of advice: “Do some physics.” For most people who are in need of consolation, I suspect physics is among the last things they would consider. Tim Radford, a former Guardian science editor, wants to persuade them that the branch of science so many people find soulless and intimating can offer much spiritual balm. He makes his case in what he calls a “love letter to physics”.
Radford is a much-admired journalist: graceful, witty and adept at squeezing human interest from the driest maths. I remember once hearing him declare on stage that the public are most interested in science that’s “either exceptionally useful or totally useless”. He focuses on the latter in this book, an appreciative survey of the vast canvas on which physicists do their creative work – the entire observable universe, from the beginning of time to its end (assuming there is one).