Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Everything you need to know about the beauty of modern physics in less than 100 pages.In seven brief lessons, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli guides readers with admirable clarity through the most transformative physics breakthroughs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This playful, entertaining and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, already...

Title:Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
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Edition Language:English

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Reviews

  • Roberto

    Queste sette lezioni (che poi sono sei più una parte dedicata a riflessioni generali sull’uomo) sono parzialmente tratte da una serie di articoli pubblicati dall’autore sul “Sole 24 Ore”.

    Le lezioni trattano, in 88 pagine complessive, cosucce come la relatività generale di Einstein, la meccanica quantistica, le particelle elementari, l’architettura del cosmo, i buchi neri ed altro ancora.

    Arrivato alla fine del saggio mi è venuta in mente una freddura che

    Queste sette lezioni (che poi sono sei più una parte dedicata a riflessioni generali sull’uomo) sono parzialmente tratte da una serie di articoli pubblicati dall’autore sul “Sole 24 Ore”.

    Le lezioni trattano, in 88 pagine complessive, cosucce come la relatività generale di Einstein, la meccanica quantistica, le particelle elementari, l’architettura del cosmo, i buchi neri ed altro ancora.

    Arrivato alla fine del saggio mi è venuta in mente una freddura che lessi tempo fa su un libro inglese: “

    ”.

    Gli argomenti trattati, indubbiamente complessi, sono spiegati con un linguaggio semplice. Ma è sufficiente un linguaggio semplice per fare comprendere cose notevolmente complicate? È facile dire che il tempo non è universale, che le cose cadono perché lo spazio s’incurva, che il campo gravitazionale è lo spazio stesso, che il tempo passa più velocemente tanto più ci si allontana dalla Terra, che l’energia si distribuisce nella materia in maniera discontinua? Questi concetti sono veramente comprensibili a tutti?

    La mia sensazione è che al termine della lettura chi conosce questi argomenti, per quanto incuriosito dalle considerazioni filosofiche esposte in merito alle teorie scientifiche, non ne saprà di più. Chi ignora la fisica contemporanea continuerà a ignorarla.

    L’unica nota positiva del libriccino è il tentativo di avvicinamento della cultura scientifica con quella umanistica, normalmente troppo (e purtroppo) separate.

  • Brian Clegg

    This strikes me as the kind of book that would really impress an arts graduate who thought it was giving deep insights into science in an elegant fashion, but for me it was a triumph of style over substance - far too little content to do justice to the subject. It is, in effect, seven articles strung together as a mini-book that can be read comfortably in an hour, but is priced like a full-length work.

    Don't get me wrong, Carlo Rovelli knows his stuff when it comes to physics and gives us postcar

    This strikes me as the kind of book that would really impress an arts graduate who thought it was giving deep insights into science in an elegant fashion, but for me it was a triumph of style over substance - far too little content to do justice to the subject. It is, in effect, seven articles strung together as a mini-book that can be read comfortably in an hour, but is priced like a full-length work.

    Don't get me wrong, Carlo Rovelli knows his stuff when it comes to physics and gives us postcard sketches of a number of key areas, mostly in the hot fields like cosmology and quantum gravity (though interestingly focussing on the generally rather less popular loop quantum gravity). However he's not so good on his history of science, and can, as scientists often do when writing for the general public, over-simplify.

    The last of the articles is different from the rest - rather than take in a specific field (quantum physics, say) as the earlier articles do, it looks at how people and science interact. In some ways this is the freshest and most interesting part of the content... it's just hard to see why it's a 'lesson in physics.'

    This book came across to me like a taster menu from a fancy restaurant. It will certainly hit the mental tastebuds, and contains a number of delights - but it is insubstantial and leaves you wanting far more. I can see the title doing very well as a gift book. It looks pretty and is handsomely bound, but there are plenty of better options out there if a reader really wants to be introduced to the wonders of modern physics.

  • Darwin8u

    ― Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

    At the highest level a discussion of physics doesn't just operate on a mathematical level, but a poetic and philosophical level as well. Look closely at the writings of Aristotle, Lucretius, Einstein and Feynman, and one disc

    ― Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

    At the highest level a discussion of physics doesn't just operate on a mathematical level, but a poetic and philosophical level as well. Look closely at the writings of Aristotle, Lucretius, Einstein and Feynman, and one discovers not just some code to the operation of the Universe, but love songs to that Universe, a desire to connect to and explain the beauty and transcendence of Nature and our role in this complex and amazing world.

    This book reminds me of a funeral I went to for a former (obvious) client of mine. He was the first nuclear medicine physician in my state and had his PhD and MD. He was a friend and an amazing person. At my table in the church's cultural hall, after the service (but before the burial) was his son, who had his PhD in genetics, a Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist, and a theoretical physicist from UC Santa Barbara. The conversation drifted from music to politics to art to nature. It was random, beautiful, and one of those moments that happens by accident and you cherish for years to come. I am reminded of this meal when I read this book.

    This book is short. It is 7 chapters (Six lesson and a conclusion) of about 10 pages each. Imagine you are having a nice, elegant, six course Italian meal with physicists past and present, poets, and philosophers outside in pricy Roman restaurant garden. It is night. It is dark. The canopy of the heavens spins above your heads. Each course brings a new topic. You discuss Einstein and the theory of relativity while eating the appetizer, you move onto Quanta as you eat the soup. The pasta is served just as the conversation turns to the architecture of the Cosmos. When the main course is served, people are already talking about Quarks and the Standard Model. The discussion gets intense. A Romaine salad is served and the host interrupts to talk about the grains of space and, since he is paying, he also talks about loop quantum gravity. Things are slowing down. It is late, the discussion jumps to probability, time, and the heat of black holes as the desert dishes are set down. Finally, as everyone is given their bitter digestifs, they move away to the table to walk in the gardens to discuss everyone's favorite subject: ourselves. Poetry and alcohol flow quickly, conversations grow hot and cold. The center cannot hold. The company departs.

    Anyway, I loved it.

  • Elizabeth

    This review was originally published on

    .

    In those moments of life when the grim figures of anxiety, stress, or panic grip me tight and threaten to never let go, I have learned that the one thing sure to scare them off is a nice little face-off with the end of the universe.

    That’s my super casual way of saying I’ve been having a bit of a hard time with anxiety recently. Anxiety is a fucker because it messes with my ability to concentrate which is something very necessary

    This review was originally published on

    .

    In those moments of life when the grim figures of anxiety, stress, or panic grip me tight and threaten to never let go, I have learned that the one thing sure to scare them off is a nice little face-off with the end of the universe.

    That’s my super casual way of saying I’ve been having a bit of a hard time with anxiety recently. Anxiety is a fucker because it messes with my ability to concentrate which is something very necessary for actually reading and enjoying books rather than continually picking them up and putting them down and wandering around the house worrying about the fact that you haven’t read any damn books to talk about on your book-related social media and feeling like you should be doing something productive instead but not actually being able to do it and then worrying about that as well. BASTARD.

    But back to the subject at hand: science books!

    When none of my fictional favourites can hold my attention I find that often a little non-fiction does the job. And so on my latest foray to the book shops I spotted SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS by Carlo Rovelli and snapped it up. It’s such a wee little thing and yet so intriguing with its evocative title that it seemed perfect. 78 pages of basic science, what could possibly be more innocuous. Little did I know.

    The tiny size of SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS belies the size of the utter mind-fuck that is held within.

    Allow me to explain. It starts amicably enough:

    That’s me, right there. Little to nothing; me and Jon Snow are with you. The principle of the book is to give a tiny “overview” of the revolutions in the understanding of physics that have happened in the past century or so. It begins with lesson one – Einstein that fluffy haired moppet, who changed the world by suggesting that space isn’t, well, space. It’s not an empty area populated by waves and forces and things – it literally IS those forces. There was some visualising of rubber sheets which left me a little cross-eyed but essentially getting the gist of it. But then Rovelli happily hopped onwards to lesson two where he calmly announced that quantum mechanics means that reality only sometimes exists.

    OKAY THEN, RIGHT, THAT’S FINE. YOU CARRY ON. I’LL LEAVE MY BRAIN IN THIS PUDDLE.

    By lesson five time itself had gone out the window and the entirety of the universe followed shortly thereafter. Physics, it seems, does not fuck around. But it was the seventh chapter that really leaves you staring into the void.

    Rovelli uses this final lesson to grapple with the relevance of physics to our lives. Or, more accurately, of the relevance of our lives in the vast and uncaring strangeness of the cosmos. With the same sparse simplicity of words that he used to set out the mind-bending reality that is revealed by physics, he touches on the concepts of thought, learning, philosophy, ethics, and, of course, of death. Like many of the books where science meets philosophy, the wording gets close to religious in its solemn beauty.

    That’s dark stuff, man. COLD. But actually I found myself weirdly comforted. Rovelli takes pains to explain that however dark and weird the universe may seem, we are not alien to it, but part of it. We are at home in its weird unreality. It’s quite a moment when you can look into the void and the only thing that comes to mind is that old song by Simon and Garfunkel…

    It reminded me of

    , that strange and lovely conglomeration of scientific ideas, literature and philosophy compiled and presented by

    as a secular bible. Like a religious person seeking succour in a religious text I find my calm in the place where science meets philosophy.

    The concepts set out in this book are mind-bendingly weird. I’m not sure I really comprehended the full meaning of it all (which is probably the point, temptations to learn more and all that) but it was completely and utterly engaging. My only criticism was, really, its brevity. For some of the more complex concepts just a little more time spent trying to give me a better mental grasp of these slippery thoughts would have been perfect. A page, maybe two. No more.

    The writing style is excellent – elegant, flowing, and measured. And a translated text I can only suppose that this is a sign of both an excellent author and some damn fine translators. It balances the need for simple explanations of complex ideas with evocative, beautiful prose – it’s a science book written for readers, not scientists after all.

    It’s worth reading for the madness of the physics alone but for my anxious brain it was the strange, warm bath in the restaurant at the end of the universe that it needed. And for that, Carlo Rovelli, I thank you.

    This review was originally published on

    .

  • Warwick

    Engaging but over-slight summary of a few foundational concepts of modern physics, including special relativity, quantum theory, the standard model, as well as some leading hypothetical ideas like loop quantum gravity.

    It's always welcome to read someone who's working from the conviction that these ideas should be accessible to everyone, not just a coterie of science graduates, and Rovelli certainly has an appealing turn of phrase. For instance: talking about Hawking radiation in the context of c

    Engaging but over-slight summary of a few foundational concepts of modern physics, including special relativity, quantum theory, the standard model, as well as some leading hypothetical ideas like loop quantum gravity.

    It's always welcome to read someone who's working from the conviction that these ideas should be accessible to everyone, not just a coterie of science graduates, and Rovelli certainly has an appealing turn of phrase. For instance: talking about Hawking radiation in the context of competing descriptions of the universe, he writes that

    The problem is that these chapters are

    brief – they began as a series of weekly columns for

    – that they are only really of use to someone who has had no exposure to these concepts whatsoever. There is no room to touch on any but the most preliminary of introductory points. It's like scanning the headlines. The ‘lessons’ are fine, they're nicely written, they're suitably curious and awe-struck – but they're somehow unsatisfying.

    And at times, he can perhaps be a little disingenuous. To illustrate the concept of loop quantum gravity, he talks about a hypothetical entity called a Planck star, something whose existence, as far as I know, has only ever been proposed by one C. Rovelli….

    But overall, you're left with the impression that you just spent half an hour chatting with a particularly engaging lecturer at a party, without getting the chance to hear him actually lecture. Oh – and his wide-eyed, cheerful demeanour makes it all the more sobering when he sums up the prospects for our immediate future as follows:

  • Barbara

    These seven brief lessons about physics are interesting, enlightening, and (more or less) accessible to non-scientists. The author, Carlo Rovelli, is a theoretical physicist with great enthusiasm for his subject matter.

    The lessons (which I'm greatly simplifying) include:

    : The faster you move, the slower time passes. This would be really obvious if you could travel at the speed of light.

    : Space is not empty, but composed of particles of so

    These seven brief lessons about physics are interesting, enlightening, and (more or less) accessible to non-scientists. The author, Carlo Rovelli, is a theoretical physicist with great enthusiasm for his subject matter.

    The lessons (which I'm greatly simplifying) include:

    : The faster you move, the slower time passes. This would be really obvious if you could travel at the speed of light.

    : Space is not empty, but composed of particles of some kind. The sun bends space around itself, and the planets circle around the sun because they follow the curve of space (like marbles that roll around a funnel). This explains the 'force of gravity' that prevents the planets from flying off into the galaxy.

    : The energy of a field is distributed in 'quanta', or packets of energy, like electrons in an electrical field. But quanta only exist when they're interacting with something else - so they bleep in an out of existence. Moreover, quanta move randomly so we can't know where they'll manifest themselves. (If you can't wrap your mind around this don't feel bad. Albert Einstein couldn't either. LOL)

    : Our sun is one star among billions of stars in the galaxy.....and there are billions of galaxies.....and so on. There may even be more than one universe, but we don't know.

    : The universe is teeming with particles called electrons, quarks, gluons, photons, neutrinos, and Higgs bosons. Rovelli explains that these particles are 'like bricks in a Lego set' that make up the material things surrounding us. Moreover, 'the nature of these particles and the way they move is described by quantum mehanics'.....so they're always winking in an out of being. All the particles, fields, and forces in the universe are summed up in 'The Standard Model of Particle Physics' which no one understands. Ha ha ha.

    : Unfortunately the theories of general relativity - where the universe is a continous curved space, and quantum mechanics - where the universe is composed of particles that bleep in and out of existence, contradict each other. But both theories work well. So physicists are trying to merge the ideas in a field of study called 'loop quantum gravity.'

    One combined theory suggests that space is not continuous but made up of infinitesimally small 'grains of space' called loops.....connected somewhat like a chain link fence. This theory has repercussions that mess with the reality of time - so it needs a lot more of work.

    : The notion of 'time' is elusive and has been the subject of much debate among physicists. Rovelli points out, though, that heat distinguishes the past from the future. As time goes by, heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder (for example, a teaspoon heats up in hot tea). The science of heat is called thermodynamics.

    We don't know what happens to a gravitational field when it heats up, but a clue might be found in a black hole - a collapsed star with a gravitational field so strong that nothing (not even light) can escape. Black holes are hot - in essence hot 'spots' of space-time. Thus they combine quantum mechanics, general relativity, and thermodynamics. Eventually, scientists might be able to use black holes to reveal the true nature of time.

    : If humans are composed of ephemeral particles, the same stuff as the rest of the universe, where do we get our sense of ourselves......of being conscious and making decisions. Scientists studying the brain are trying to shed light on this.

    I liked the book - which is short and sweet - and recommend it to readers interested in the subject.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Jamie

    Quick read. I felt the author talked about himself more than any of the theories he was trying to convey in his book.

    These are such complex theories, that were so dumbed- down it was impossible to read at times.

  • Sean Gibson

    It should be noted as a point of fact that “brief” does not mean “simple.”

    I really like physics. It explains how everything works, and it’s a discipline that doesn’t dogmatically cling to outmoded ideas when new evidence suggests that everything we thought we knew was completely and totally erroneous (I, conversely, very much enjoy clinging dogmatically to outmoded ideas, including, but not limited to, the idea that parachute pants are cool, Van Hagar was the best incarnation of Van Halen, and i

    It should be noted as a point of fact that “brief” does not mean “simple.”

    I really like physics. It explains how everything works, and it’s a discipline that doesn’t dogmatically cling to outmoded ideas when new evidence suggests that everything we thought we knew was completely and totally erroneous (I, conversely, very much enjoy clinging dogmatically to outmoded ideas, including, but not limited to, the idea that parachute pants are cool, Van Hagar was the best incarnation of Van Halen, and it’s not a crime to wear socks with sandals).

    Do I understand physics? Heck no. If you could have seen my brain (insert microscope joke here) as I read this slim but enlightening tome, it would have looked distressingly like one of those delightful taffy pulling machines you see at quaint, old-fashioned candy stores on Mackinac Island or a boardwalk somewhere.

    That said, for someone who hasn’t read much on physics in about 20 years, this is an excellent (and mercifully high-level) overview of the current state of the field and includes brief forays into topics ranging from general relativity to cutting-edge loop quantum gravity theory. Of particular note is the current thinking on the dimension of time and how our perception of time may, in fact, be just that—a perception and not a fixed value (reading that section was the point at which my poor taffy puller exploded and left me all sticky…insert atrocious double entendre here).

    If you’re an armchair science enthusiast like me, this is probably just the right amount of detail; if you’re smarter than I am (likely) or more well read on what’s going on in physics these days, though, you may want to look elsewhere for a dose of enlightenment.

  • Kevin

    This book explained the basic concepts of physics, and major breakthroughs in the field over the years in such an effortlessly poetic way, that I couldn't help but be drawn in and understand them a little bit better. Really fantastic stuff.

  • Riku Sayuj

    Short and sweet. Six extremely brief lessons on six crucial areas of Physics and a final one on where we fit into all of it. Rovelli starts with General Relativity and shows us how elegant and simple it is - to re-imagine space as a place that bends, stretches, and interacts with the stars. What a leap of imagination it must have taken to think of emptiness itself as an object which interacts. Rovelli says that that is a key to modern physics, the realization that it is all about interactions an

    Short and sweet. Six extremely brief lessons on six crucial areas of Physics and a final one on where we fit into all of it. Rovelli starts with General Relativity and shows us how elegant and simple it is - to re-imagine space as a place that bends, stretches, and interacts with the stars. What a leap of imagination it must have taken to think of emptiness itself as an object which interacts. Rovelli says that that is a key to modern physics, the realization that it is all about interactions and not about absolute properties - maybe all properties arise form interactions and nothing has intrinsic properties?

    We move onto quantum mechanics and see how it gradually got muddier - muddy enough that even Einstein, chief-imaginer, couldn’t fathom its weirdness anymore. At this point, the reader would be excused in thinking that each lesson is a bit shorter than warranted… The next lessons takes us to the architecture of the cosmos itself and shows us that unless we figure out a way to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, we will never figure out this weird place we find ourselves in. The sixth lesson about thermodynamics, turns the focus to the grandest mystery of modern science - time. Time might just be an illusion, arising out of our sensory limitations and might require science to allow us to look past it - just like how the movement of the stars and the surface of the earth looked different once we substituted the lens of of our senses with the lens of science. We might learn to ignore time, in time. The last chapter gets a bit fuzzy and philosophical, but that is from where we summon the sense of grandeur required to plod on in the face of all the weirdness that modern science is - to keep exploring this strange, multicolored and astonishing world which we inhabit – where space is granular, time does not exist, and things are nowhere.


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