"I can imagine few more enjoyable ways of thinking than to read this book."
Sarah Bakewell, New York Times Book Review, front-page review
Tackling the "darkest question in all of philosophy" with "raffish erudition" (Dwight Garner, The New York Times), author Jim Holt explores the greatest metaphysical mystery of all: why is there something rather than nothing? This runaway best seller, which has captured the imagination of critics and the public alike, traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. Holt adopts the role of cosmological detective, traveling the globe to interview a host of celebrated scientists, philosophers, and writers, "testing the contentions of one against the theories of the other" (Jeremy Bernstein, Wall Street Journal). As he interrogates his list of ontological culprits, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God versus the Big Bang. This "deft and consuming" (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times) narrative humanizes the profound questions of meaning and existence it confronts.
©2012 Jim Holt (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
l'enfer c'est les autres
The author uses the question "why does the world exist" and each of his interviews as a narrative device in explaining the fundamental questions of philosophy. There are commonly two ways of explaining philosophy, 1) look at philosophy in its chronological order of development as in the book by Will Durant, "The Story of Philosophy", or as this author does 2) look at how different people consider the question "why there is something instead of nothing".
The author is really good at setting up the background and summarizing the perspective of each of the people interviewed in each of the chapters. The author introduces the listener to many different schools of philosophy both relatively modern and ancient (though almost always from the western tradition). The book really filled in my gaps since Durant's book stopped at 1926 and I got a good background on some philosophy after that period.
I had to listen to each chapter more intently than I usually do for science books but the author explains things such that even a non-philosopher can follow the points being made.
One odd note, I never would have finished a written version of this book, because I would have been doing a constant stream of wiki and google searches on the concepts he kept bringing up. Listening doesn't allow me to do that.
Before reading the book, I would never have been able to say something like this: Aristotle thinks of the world made up of both stuff and structure. The structure can be thought of as the math or process that hold the pieces of the stuff together and so on.... The point is even a non-philosopher can listen to this story and follow what's being said.
The book is not for everyone. After all, it is a survey of philosophy book, but the author tells the story so well that the casual reader will be on the look out for other accessible books on philosophy.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
With a smile and a pair of tennis shoes, Jim Holt tries to sell the idea that there is an answer to the question, “Why Does the World Exist?” Like Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman”, Holt has a gift for gab but neither he nor anyone else is able to close the sale.
It is certainly not that Holt is not a good salesman but he tries to sell a thing impossible to define. No known person has enough theoretical or experimental proof to convince one there is an answer to “Why Does the World Exist?” All that remains is faith, either in science, religion, or philosophy. Holt’s “…Existential Detective Story” is a terrific synthesis of physics, religion, and philosophy but the mystery remains, “Why Does the World Exist?”
Like Don Quixote, Holt puts a pan back on his head, grabs his lance, swings his leg over Rocinante, and tilts at Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” to answer the question of why the world exists. It is simply a matter of what you think. Of course, Holt does not believe this is an answer either. He is a very smart guy, a good writer, and an interesting philosopher.
Interesting topic and coverage
No. This reader is fine with one fatal exception: Every few sentences he will suddenly lower his voice to near silence and consequently you miss a word or phrase during this "quiet period" in his dynamics. You can turn up the volume, but then most of the text is unpleasantly loud. And even with the volume up high, if you're driving or there's other ambient noise--you just cannot hear some words. It's extremely annoying. Sometimes, to hear a crucial word, I've rewound 30 seconds and really blasted the volume! This guy reads well otherwise, but these "dramatic" whispers are terrible. Audible needs to run his reading through a compressor or something to even out the dynamics.
I am now depressed.
Made very difficult topics sound easy. It is a long book and his voice carries it nicely. Nice tone (not too serious)
Be prepared to re-listen to chapters as this stuff is heady.
Steven Menasche is considered a capable narrator, but this time it doesn't seem to work for him.
He sounds very “robotic” with almost complete lack of timing and “presence”. It sounds like he doesn't understand what he is reading, or perhaps more likely; he doesn't care about the book at all.
The book itself is very good though.
I read and heard the book. I enjoyed both formats. The warmth and personal traits of the author show through the reader.
No idea. I believe every book is unique and comparisons are not helpful.
Better. His voice translates the mood of the author and his humanity.
A personal search for meaning. Is there any purpose for the existence of the world, and its sentient beings.
I would encourage the author to write another interesting book.
Yes, if for no other reason than it is thought-provoking and offers a variety of points of view on an impossible question.
I am lukewarm on the narration. It was easy to understand, but the tone often seemed too flippant. Also (and this is less about the narration than the book itself), there is too much untranslated French.
I sit back and contemplate this book and feel equally sure that I could have given it 2 stars or 4 stars. It is a book of philosophy and asks an unanswerable question. Holt winds his way around the world, meeting with and disucssing why does the world exist (why is there something rather than nothing) with philosophers and scientists, with theists and atheists. The debates and vignettes and theories and metaphors that follow run the gamut, some positing god as the reason and others positing quantum tunnelling and others simply admitting that they do not know. The discussions are at times fascinating or frustrating, mathematical or mystical, considered or circular. For those with a background in or a prediliction for philosophy will likely find this book closer to the 4 star range; for those that have trouble taking seriously ideas without a quantifiable basis, the book will prove more challenging. I do not feel my time was wasted, but I leave with a lot of food for thought and torn between eye-rolling and deep contemplation.
I'm listening to this book as a kind of review, having read the book in the traditional way a couple of years ago. The book is worth a second reading--lots to chew on.
You would think that if you hire someone to narrate a book with a philosophical subject, you would require, as a basic qualification, that the narrator be able to pronounce basic philosophical terms and names. Add a supercilious tone and you have a recipe for a verbal train wreck.
Jim Holt brings the reader/listener on a deep yet deeply fun exploration of a nearly unanswerable question. The quest to answer it stays engaging thanks to Holt's playful style of inquiry and his lively cast of brilliant minds - renowned philosophers, theologians, authors, etc. In addition to cogently exploring the toughest question there is, Holt also engages with some of the more difficult of the great philosophers in an approachable yet rigorous way - in his hands, Spinoza, Hegel and Kant aren't so intimidating. Highly recommend.
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