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Publisher's Summary

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction. Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger - these are some of the luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the listener, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear. At a breakneck pace and with a wealth of disturbing detail, Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to tell the stories of the scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.

©2021 Benjamin Labatut and Adrian West (P)2021 Dreamscape Media, LLC

What listeners say about When We Cease to Understand the World

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  • 12-08-21

Phenomenal Stories About Ultra Geniuses

From the first chapter - Prussian Blue - to The Night Gardener's VI chapter, this fascinating in-depth set of biographies of scientific geniuses, tortured by their individual and unnatural gifts, held my attention through the very last word. After finishing this Audiobook I was compelled to also buy the Kindle version so that I would have on hand the sea of references of unusual facts and gifted personalities. This book will hold you fascinated. From the inventors of Pervitin and cyanide and their morbid uses by the Nazi Regime during WWII, to the unusual bursting beauty of how an old lemon tree dies. Mr. Labatut produced a literary masterpiece for us to enjoy and to provoke wonder.
The largely unsung geniuses like Karl Schwarzschild and his singularity to Shinichi Mochizuki and his brilliant a+b = c conjecture, which no one yet even understands, this book has many more treasures to uncover. And you will be unable to tell where you have unsuspectingly fallen into the historical fiction part of this wonderful work!
Excellent work!

6 people found this helpful

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the true heir w.g. sebald

Labatut is the true heir of W.G. Sebald. No higher praise could be given. The narration is equal to the text.

This is a book is poetic, narrative non-fiction. There are moments of psychological experience which are projected or imagined: not derived precisely from sources but imagined or inferred based on familiarity with overall context and the characters in play. There are also moments of mythologization—where a lyrical transmutation of events reveals a truth deeper than what can be squeezed out of transcripts. But to call it fiction is misunderstand and depreciate the unless we understand that all history—anything above and beyond pure, opaque and unprocessed data (anything deserving of the name of history)—contains elements of fiction. Language acts are descriptive, not objective. That goes for history as well.

5 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

Why was this ever written? The author just invented random and sometimes disgusting stories about famous people.

3 people found this helpful

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A Melange of Dark Genuis

This brilliant book shows the arrogance of those who think they understand science. It tells the story of the greatest geniuses in the last two centuries and how when gazing into the hearts of their creation, they pulled back realizing the darkness that lay ahead as a result. Ironically, the only way forward is to interrogate the nature of mankind and the science we have created.

3 people found this helpful

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Incredible

An incredible read: elaborate in its structure, disturbing in its subject, and daunting in its scope. A series of stories that straddle the line between fact and fiction as the reader is left to ponder their own understanding of the world.

2 people found this helpful

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Blending science literature life and despair

This was a surprisingly excellent book. Surprising because I could not recall where I learned about it . But it was a great summary of the physics and math behind some of our most innocent research adventures that ultimately proved very deadly for humanity. As a retired scientist I like challenging ideas that force me out of my contented worldview- I was thrilled to read it - it is a book that deserves mulling over rather than just a once through audio read.
It requires we reconsider the default assumptions about how we progress as a society. This is troubling thought at the cusp of a human society apocalypse of our own making. Rrunaway climate change and the viral explosions underway come to mind. Can science and technology save civilization? I’m not so sure but there are no other options at this point.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent

By any measure, this is best book I’ve read or listened to in the past two years.

2 people found this helpful

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Playful uncertainty

The fictional aspects of this story crept up on me. I was like, hey wait a minute, how could he know this about that character? And then I realized that such conjectures are what keeps us humans heading into the unknown.

1 person found this helpful

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So Beauitiful

I haven't felt so moved by a book in a long time. This book does a better job of making quantum mechanics feel personal and understandable than any other book I've listened to on the subject, but it also does so in a way that is poignant and devastatingly beautiful. While the role of psychosis in the lives of the scientists depicted is certainly at the forefront, it is the also about creativity, intellect, and the tragically magical connection between them.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating, unusual read (listen)

I very much enjoy audio books about philosophy, science and mathematics, and this text brings them together quite well. More importantly (and wonderfully), the author builds a pathway for us to walk along with him - the message and importance builds, and not always in a linear fashion. However, as we realize the inspirational interconnection among great thinkers, and the author relates it to their personal experiences in the final chapter, we come to an fuller understanding of the title of the book and how it relates to our knowledge of reality and the meaning of our place within it. Add to that some very well-crafted narrative non-fiction and trippy stories of ground-breaking physicists, and you end up with a worthwhile read indeed!

1 person found this helpful