When Einstein Walked with Godel is a competent and articulate survey of contemporary problems in physics, mathematics and philosophy. It contains biographical insights into some of the most interesting intellectuals of the twentieth century. And one cannot doubt the fact that the author is genuinely interested in describing what would otherwise be academic arcana in a palatable fashion to the public. And yet, I think the book is unintentionally evil. Let me describe why.
Holt states that he intends his essays to go to the depth of a cocktail party discussion. But, as one reads on and on, it becomes increasingly obvious that the book is discussing some of the most important questions that can be asked. What is truth? What is the likely end of the universe? Can the human mind fathom the underlying laws of nature? Why does mathematics describe the world so well? And on and on.
If you are the kind of person who thinks these questions are mainly good for entertainment at dinner parties then you will enjoy the hor dourves sized essays in this book. Ultimately however, while these questions may be irresolvable with the common consent of the human race, it is necessary for every person to try to answer these as best they can. Our answers may be partial—might even contradict one another—but at least we can be fully mature human beings who can give a reasonable account of our life.
To relegate the deepest questions to cocktail party subjects is, paradoxically, to provide an answer: I only care about how much fun I can have at cocktail parties.
So while I actually enjoyed reading the book and getting an hor dourves sized taste of some subjects I hadn’t known about, I don’t recommend purchasing it. There is too much of a flippant attitude--of “Oh isn’t it interesting. This scientist just proved the universe will end in a reverse of the Big Bang called the Big Crunch. Can you pass the stuffed mushrooms?”
Well written, interesting material but with an essentially pernicious attitude. Not recommended.