Review: Carlo Rovelli – Seven Brief Lessons On Physics


When this Sunday Times Bestseller first arrived at my house, carefully packaged in cardboard, I would be lying if I said that initially I wasn’t slightly surprised by it’s size. At a measly 79 pages and only the size of an A5 notebook, it might be easier to call it an essay or pamphlet and I’m pretty sure it is by far the shortest book I have ever read.

The book itself really is quite lovely on the face of things. The hardback cover is a simple cosmos image in black and gold and is the perfect size to slip into your coat pocket so that you can read it on the bus. Although it wouldn’t take many bus journeys to finish. As a keen reader, and an even keener buyer of books, I can understand why this book is so popular on the shelves, its simplicity just screams out “BUY ME”. Despite often being told by society “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” it’s difficult not to do so in this case.

The title of the book is also simple, clear and straight to the point, much like the rest of the book. I always look for this quality when I’m buying a book, it should always be obvious what you are about to read. The chapter titles are equally straight to the point but give enough detail to explain what is in each.

Carlo Rovelli, an acclaimed Italian physicist, has an incredible knack to describing complex science in a way that is compelling and allows engagement without confusion.

I must say that I am impressed by the presentation of some of the more complicated theories even though the minimalistic style of the book leaves much to the imagination and often theories are lacking the specifics. This book is definitely one for those who are interested in learning about our place in the universe but not too bothered about the details of complicated formulae and concepts.

Physics is definitely not my specialist subject and I would never even pretend that I knew much about it but even I can see that some areas are lacking. Einstein’s theory of ‘special relativity’, for example, is described in only half a paragraph, and is arguably one of the most famous and important theories behind cosmology.

Even though I know that the book requires a considerable amount more detail to be thorough I can completely understand the decision to present the book in this way. If he were to open this book out to the thorough explanations of Quantum Theory, Dark Matter and Black Holes the book could easily have become over 1000 pages which was obviously not Rovelli’s aim.

You only have to look at the physics section of a library or bookshop to see that this isn’t going to be a thorough and in-depth retelling of every complicated theory of physics. If you were reading this to become a genius of physics, then you misread the nature of the book.

What I like most about Rovelli, and what he shows in this book, is his ability to demonstrate his obvious passion for physics but at the same time not to get side-tracked by his emotions. It really is an endearing piece of work and makes me want to read more of his literary collection.

Rovelli ends the book in a what can only be described as an awe-inspiring manner: “Here on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.”

If that sentence alone doesn’t make you feel enchanted with physics, then I don’t think anything ever will.

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