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The Jazz of Physics

The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe
Narrated by: Don Hagen
Length: 7 hrs and 38 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (61 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

More than 50 years ago, John Coltrane drew the 12 musical notes in a circle and connected them with straight lines, forming a five-pointed star. Inspired by Einstein, Coltrane had put physics and geometry at the core of his music. Physicist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander returns the favor, using jazz to answer physics' most vexing questions about the past and future of the universe.

Following the great minds that first drew the links between music and physics - a list including Pythagoras, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and Rakim - The Jazz of Physics revisits the ancient realm where music, physics, and the cosmos were one. This cosmological journey accompanies Alexander's own tale of struggling to reconcile his passion for music and physics, from taking music lessons as a boy in the Bronx to studying theoretical physics at Imperial College, London's inner sanctum of string theory. Playing the saxophone and improvising with equations, Alexander uncovered the connection between the fundamental waves that make up sound and the fundamental waves that make up everything else. As he reveals, the ancient poetic idea of the "music of the spheres", taken seriously, clarifies confounding issues in physics.

Whether you are more familiar with Brian Greene or Brian Eno, John Coltrane or John Wheeler, the Five Percent Nation or why the universe is less than 5 percent visible, there is a new discovery every minute. Covering the entire history of the universe from its birth to its fate, its structure on the smallest and largest scales, The Jazz of Physics will fascinate and inspire anyone interested in the mysteries of our universe, music, and life itself.

©2016 Stephon Alexander (P)2016 Gildan Media LLC

Critic Reviews

"Music lovers are at high risk of being inspired by this exploration of the connections between music and physics.... Alexander elegantly charts the progress of science from the ancients through Copernicus and Kepler to Einstein (a piano-player) and beyond, making it clear that what we call genius has a lot to do with convention-challenging courage, a trait shared by each age's great musicians as well." (Keith Blanchard, Wall Street Journal)

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

I tried and failed not to be disappointed

Just a couple of points. I love jazz & I love at least trying to understand physics. So my expectations of this book might have been tweaked a bit too high.

My main objection is that there are no musical clips in this book anywhere. You can't just describe what John Coltrane was doing and hope for it to have an impact. We have to have an illustration of it, precisely because it seems to stray from the easily understandable. I tried listening to the Coltrane albums he mentions after I finished the book, and I could no more easily decipher them or relate them to the physics concepts in the book than I could before listening to it.

Just a personal opinion- I am no fan of the "whistling S" sound in a narrator. Some people don't mind it, I do. Take it into account before listening if it's going to bother you.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Loved this book!

While I have limited knowledge of physics, I love jazz. The Jazz of Physics has inspired me to learn more about Physics and pick up my saxophone again. I will have to re listen to this book as I study more about physics and cosmology .

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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What?

This book is really a mishmash of physics and music. Other than string length causing pitch change, there is no connection between physics and jazz.

I don't get the 5 star reviews. Coltrane didn't discover the secrets of the universe. No, this one wasn't worth the time. It's really somewhat of a mess.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Brain candy for theoretical types

I don't understand music or physics or the universe, but I wanted to learn the language of music. None of the music theory books made sense to me so I started trying to put the theory into my own visual paradigm. After I did that, I somehow knew (I think the universe told me) I could conceptualize music theory through a familiarziation with physics concepts. This book has inspired me to keep walking this theoretical path...and to add Coltrane to my studies.

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  • Greg W.
  • Cornwall on Hudson, NY United States
  • 10-01-18

Limited appeal

Unless you know a lot about music structure, his premise can't really be understood. It would have been very helpful for some of the referenced music to be included in the audio. He drops too many names in an effort to bolster support for his premise. It gets tedious after a while.

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Not what it promised to be?

Overall it was a very weird mixture of cosmology and jazz with the two are never really connected? We're over somewhat shockingly it seems like some of the authors theories are a bit out of date? He still maintains and oscillating version of the universe which is been all but abandoned since the 1980s so again it's just a little surprised and not in a good way throughout

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More jazz and physics, less namedropping

If you could sum up The Jazz of Physics in three words, what would they be?

Mind-bending, name-dropping, disjointed

Would you be willing to try another book from Stephon Alexander? Why or why not?

Yes, I hope the author might write a sequel that starts with the amazing final chapter of this book, and then focuses more on the jazz and physics and less on the author's encounters with more or less famous people and their effect on him.

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  • KViniegra
  • 09-09-16

Extremely boring!

What would have made The Jazz of Physics better?

Not interesting

What could Stephon Alexander have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

More physics and less comparison with music

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Don Hagen?

Prof. Brian Cox

What character would you cut from The Jazz of Physics?

I would delete the entire book

Any additional comments?

I am sorry for being so tough, but I was interested in the science, in any knowledge it could provide, in the new things I could have learned from the book. Compared with music is completely metaphorical and perhaps a bit philosophical which are two things that I am not looking for in a book about physics. It was a bad way to mix both issues.

2 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Michal
  • 10-05-18

Interesting but flawed blend

I’ve enjoyed the narrator’s performance and style and found the book quite interesting but overall somewhat flawed and unsatisfactory.

The author’s life has been fascinating and it is well told. I’ve enjoyed the blend of biography, popular science and music writing but in the end the audiobook does not fully exploit its full potential and the science part seems at times to be very partisan and one-sided.

On the science side the author presents quite a few hypothesis, sometimes very shaky ones, as if there were already proven facts and never explains that they are in fact not proven and there are other hypothesis to explain certain observable phenomenon.

On the music side the creators of the book have not seem to realised that it is in fact and AUDIObook. Every time there is a passage about music, be it about jazz or musical theory there should be accompanying musical score! The book simply begs for it. When explaining intricacies of musical scales I would have loved to hear not just the words describing them but the actual sound. I understand that there might have been some licensing problems with the music pieces described in the book but to rob us of generic piano sounds described in the book seems just wrong.