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Publisher's Summary

A captivating journey to the outer reaches of human knowledge

Ever since the dawn of civilization, we have been driven by a desire to know - to understand the physical world and the laws of nature. But are there limits to human knowledge? Are some things simply beyond the predictive powers of science? Or are those challenges the next big discovery waiting to happen?

In The Great Unknown, one of the world's most beloved mathematicians takes us into the minds of science's greatest innovators as he probes the many deep mysteries we have yet to solve. He reminds us that major breakthroughs were often ridiculed at the time of their discovery and takes us on a whirlwind tour of seven frontiers of knowledge, where scientists are grappling with the unknown. Can you locate consciousness in the brain? Is our universe infinite? What is dark energy made of? What happens to time in space? Is it possible to beat ageing?

At once exhilarating and mind bending, The Great Unknown will challenge you to think in new ways about every aspect of the known world. It invites us to consider big questions - about who we are and the nature of God - that even the most creative scientists have yet to answer definitively.

©2017 Marcus du Sautoy (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Brilliant and fascinating. No one is better at making the recondite accessible and exciting." (Bill Bryson)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Science Museum in a Book (this is a compliment :)

Any additional comments?

Under another publisher this book is titled "What We Cannot Know". This speaks to the philosophizing at the end of the book, where Du Sautoy summarizes his thoughts on the "Seven Journeys" mentioned in the alternate title. This alternate title better reflects the broader character of the book - like a walk through a science museum, the reader is generally left to explore and make up his or her own mind as we encounter Du Sautoy's seven topics: Chaos, Matter, Quantum Physics, the Universe, Time, Consciousness, and Infinity.

This is where Du Sautoy shines - you can practically see him in the inevitable BBC documentary pointing out lab equipment and sipping tea as he visits enlightened colleagues. If you love this kind of stuff - science museums and BBC or PBS documentaries - you'll love this book. There are even some cutting edge surprises here: Rovelli's Thermal Time and Tononi's Integrated Information Theory are two standouts I found myself researching further after Du Sautoy's mentions.

So, what of this overall "What We Cannot Know" thesis? Du Sautoy saves most of this discussion for the final chapter, which is largely too short for a rigorous philosophical treatment. As is right for a mathematician, he invokes Gödel's incompleteness theorems, mentions Alonzo Church, and generally hedges his bets. Interestingly, where Du Sautoy feels eggshells beneath his feet the most is at the "small" end of the spectrum, briefly mentioning the limitation of Plank length, whereas I found myself feeling very solid about our collective ability to discover further and further fundamentals of Quanta and Matter, but less sure about our future understanding of the Universe and Infinity. This is a good feeling at the end of a science and philosophy-of-science book, when you are confident to be slightly at odds with the author, while having thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

On final note: having recently completed a History of Science: 1700 to 1900 by Frederick Gregory, I can tell you these two books are excellent back-to-back reads. For all we can and cannot know, I can at least say that with certainty ;)

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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good story, uneven narration

great story. good introduction to fascinating topics in physics, cosmology, math and philosophy to guide deeper investigations. the narrator is quite animated and on the whole engaging. however he has an odd habit of reading any quote with a very exaggerated, almost cartoonish voice which in many cases comes off as disrespectful to the party being quoted. some may enjoy it.. I found it off-putting as the book went on.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting Good book.

Well read by author himself.
Stories of scientists and their struggles/triumphs
over history are surprising and in some cases shocking.

Puts human face on very intelligent men and women.
Delves deep into the mysterious questions that plague
us to this day.

I have listen to it several times already just to begin take it all in.


Thx:-)

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Excellent work

easy to follow the arguments, even if you don't know much physics, even in this audio version.

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Narration Was Awful!

What would have made The Great Unknown better?

Marcus du Sautoy narrates his own books and his voice was awful. He has an extremely nasally voice. It was the opposite of calm and soothing like an audio book is supposed to be. I could not pay attention to the story. I stopped listening after one chapter, because his voice was so bad. It sucks because it sounded like an interesting topic.

Moral of the story- DO NOT NARRATE YOUR OWN BOOKS! Pay a professional to do it.

If you’ve listened to books by Marcus du Sautoy before, how does this one compare?

I have not listened to previous books by this author

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Marcus du Sautoy?

Anybody but the author.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Great Unknown?

I would cut Marcus du Sautoy from doing the narration

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Good overview from the viewpoint of a mathematian

Prof Marcus du Sautoy gives an excellent review of how mathematics can help us understand universe. It is worthwhile hearing the story from the point-of-view of a mathematian. The author traces several important mathematical concepts through history, which is an amazing story. I learned a great deal from the book, and I highly recommend it.

Unfortunately, Prof. du Sautoy is not a physicist and he struggles with his explaination of quantum physics and relativity. For example, he falsely states that General Relativity (GR) is required to describe the motion of an accelerating reference system. GR describes gravity through an equivalence principal that relates gravity to an accelerating reference frame. He also gives a wrong explanation of the so called "twin paradox." Twins who take different paths through spacetime will experience different elapsed times because they change reference frames, not because one twin accelerates at a turnaround point. Both of these errors are common misconceptions. Prof du Sautoy should have asked a physicist to review his book.

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The author being the narrator is great.

The author is a brilliant man and hearing the narration of the book by him is pretty amazing.

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A nice journey through the history os science

A longitudinal and transversal review of all of science. Marcus being the Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, does a good job at that. He goes a little wider and a little deeper than most science divulging treatises I've read so far, with quite a few interesting things I didn't know. A god read if you are a science buff

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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More right-wing propaganda than science

Claiming vaccines "wiped out polio and ebola." Both false.

And quoting Donald Rumsfeld on scientific theory of what's "known and unknown." Sheesh, give it a rest. I stopped listening after the 2nd Bush admin remark.

Retitle the book: Science For Neocon Dummies

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Pfffff

Uninteresting, doesn’t hold your attention, and a huge letdown. There are many more interesting books out there that deal with the subject. I was praying for it to be over, he is wayyy too rapped up in himself.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful