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When Einstein Walked with Gödel

Excursions to the Edge of Thought
Written by: Jim Holt
Narrated by: David Stifel
Length: 15 hrs and 19 mins
4 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From Jim Holt, New York Times best-selling author of Why Does the World Exist?, comes When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought, an entertaining and accessible audiobook guide to the most profound scientific and mathematical ideas of recent centuries

Does time exist? What is infinity? Why do mirrors reverse left and right but not up and down? In this scintillating collection, Holt explores the human mind, the cosmos, and the thinkers who’ve tried to encompass the latter with the former. With his trademark clarity and humor, Holt probes the mysteries of quantum mechanics, the quest for the foundations of mathematics, and the nature of logic and truth. Along the way, he offers intimate biographical sketches of celebrated and neglected thinkers, from the physicist Emmy Noether to the computing pioneer Alan Turing and the discoverer of fractals, Benoit Mandelbrot. In this audiobook, Holt offers a painless and playful introduction to many of our most beautiful but least understood ideas, from Einsteinian relativity to string theory, and also invites listeners to consider why the greatest logician of the 20th century believed the US Constitution contained a terrible contradiction - and whether the universe truly has a future.

©2018 Jim Holt (P)2018 Macmillan Audio

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    4 out of 5 stars

Sexist overtones ruin an interesting read

I really enjoyed the first half of this audible, interesting and informative history of science, mathematics and some philosophy. I learned quite a bit about some historical figures whom I had previously only known by name. But then came an entire chapter on Ada Lovelace, so far the only woman given any thought in the book, shamelessly devoted to insulting, degrading, and dismissing her as a person and as a contributor to the history of computer science. No other subject of his essays, all men as a matter of fact, were met with such a scathing outpouring of pure contempt and disrespect. I was genuinely shocked while listening to the author personally attack the integrity of this celebrated historical figure without giving her due credit. He treats his other subjects' accomplishments and moral/professional failures with well-deserved fairness, after all they're still people too, but his tone completely shifts when writing about the one woman in this book - taking some historical controversy about her as brute uncontroversial fact, refusing to recognize any historical contribution by her or afford her any credit whatsoever, and overtly attacking her personal character without the same fairness and unbiased attitude as he did in his other essays, ie. Godel wasn't insane, he starved himself to death because he was just 'eccentric' and 'blinded by the sun outside Plato's cave' whereas Lovelace had nervous anxiety because she was a good-for-nothing abusive dug-addicted plagiarizing megalomaniacal whorish fraud. To compare, Holt mentions the names and ideas of morally questionable male figures, such as Heidegger - a literal Nazi supporter, numerous times throughout these essays without any such disgraceful condemnations or accusations as those he makes of Ada Lovelace. I simply cannot enjoy the rest of this book knowing that it's author has such a twisted, biased view of people.

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  • Tracy Rowan
  • 2018-09-11

A good overview of scientific theory


I read a lot of audiobooks about science. I don't always understand everything I hear, but the format does make that easier for me. Holt's collection of essays on science and (to a lesser degree) philosophy range from the easily comprehensible to the sort of things that would make my eyes glaze over if I was reading hard copy, but for the most part he does a great job of making a lot of complex scientific ideas much clearer and more accessible.

His discussions of physics and mathematics, which make up the bulk of the book, made a good deal of sense to me as I listened. Not that I could reproduce the formulae or equations involved. But Holt manages to give a layperson the ability to grasp some difficult concepts with the clarity of his prose.

And then there's the philosophy part which sometimes utterly eludes me because so much of it is counter-intuitive.  Still, it's almost as interesting to hear about the battles over who took credit for what, even if I don't begin to understand the What part, as it is to get the lowdown on Einstein's problems with "spooky action at a distance" which name could have been applied to gravity before science became aware of how forces work, or Gödel's paranoia that people were trying to poison him, leading him to effectively starve himself to death. Certainly some of the most interesting parts were Holt's discussion of the life and work of Alan Turing, who these days seems to be more famous as a gay martyr than as a brilliant mathematician who, in breaking the Enigma code, helped win WWII.

It's one of those books that veers from the chatty and informative to the murkily complex. Some of it is a joy to read, some went the proverbial route of in one ear and out the other. Still, I feel as if I got a great deal of both pleasure and information out of it, and I think that's all I can reasonably expect.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Philomath
  • 2018-05-21

Facinating Stroies in Science and Philosophy

This is a great book about all the interesting stuff in the philosophy of science. It is where science takes a leap of faith and philosophy becomes relevant that things become really fascinating. What we don't know or know very little about, what is counterintuitive, and the brilliant minds that laboured to reveal their secrets.

Some people think all science uses the same methodology and disagreements are in the details. This book shows opposing thought on science, epistemology, and belief. Whether its about time, relativity, quantum physics, or just the way we think, this book shines a light on some of the most intriguing aspects of modern knowledge and the quirky people behind them.

Questions, especially the unanswered ones, are the interesting ones, and this book does not disappoint. highly recommended to philosophy and philosophy of science fans, as well as anyone who likes the mysteries of reality if one does exist.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Rezanate
  • 2019-06-02

Excellent Overview

This book covers a huge spectrum of topics and while they are almost all fascinating, each chapter could be its own book.

I applaud the author for undertaking such a heavy task.

I recommend this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Christopher
  • 2019-05-12

great information, interesting history,

one play through was not enough for me. this book covers a lot of ground and over a long period of time. anyone who has interested in math and science will enjoy this book. it's not as dry as some science history retelling and also goes into detail of the personality's of some of the greatest minds in making the world what it is today.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • H. Currimbhoy
  • 2018-12-29

Very hard to put down

The title is a bit misleading, but Jim Holt runs through so many of the great philisophical questions that science has pondered for years. short chapters get to the point and offered references to thinkers and scientists I had not heard of (and I like to think I read a lot of science and philsophy books!). Essays on creativity, the possible demise of the universe, gravity theories, mathematical conundrums and the mis-naming of phenomenon are all just fascinating. I found it hard to put down and wanted to tell friends about it. The narrator is great too - has a good way with jokes to lighten some of the heavy going.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • James S.
  • 2018-05-28

Essayist posing as Philosopher-Physicist

If you're looking for great stories to share around the campfire while singing Kumbaya, this book might be just right for you! It's a collection of entertaining essays (with quite a bit of overlap between them) from a pretty good writer who doesn't actually ever demonstrate much depth of knowledge; but plenty of breadth.

After comparing the title of the book with its contents, you might think the author is unintentionally demonstrating the Dunning-Kruger Effect; at least, that's my take-away after listening to this entire Audible.

Maybe the book's title was just a bad choice, so I was expecting too much. The essays do contain a lot of details, just not the necessary depth to give those details meaning.

If you're looking for something with more depth in the physics arena specifically, but a lot less breadth, try "What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics" by Adam Becker. It's still not deep enough for my taste, but it's a better choice than Jim Holt's book here.

21 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Lane Russell
  • New York
  • 2019-06-05

Will Read Again

I found this by accident while looking for GEB (which is not on audible), but after reading this I feel fortunate that I didn’t waste my time reading anything that wasn’t this. It’s filled with thoughtful and elucidating essays that combine to form a pretty comprehensive overview of the questions pondered by mathematicians, cosmologists, logicians, and the like. Also offers many intriguing topics for further reading. Well worth the purchase

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-04-02

I learned something

about physics, philosophy, and me. I listen while I walk, and found myself continuing to listen after my walk

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  • Stefan McKinley
  • 2019-03-17

It’s not just about Einstein.

Another glimpse into the magical time when fundamental discoveries were being probed which could still be explained to the average physics and chemistry student.
When the world was smaller and all the great minds could fit into the same room.
When Einstein walked with Gödel.

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  • Stan Letovsky
  • 2019-01-22

Delightful

Holt is a talented scientiific and literary essayist in the mold of Gould, Thomas, or Sacks, but in seldom popularized topics in mathematics, logic and philosophy. He mixes historical anecdotes and explanations into a compelling narrative. The narration survived 1.5x speed up.

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  • Will Wolfer
  • 2019-06-08

good account of some grand ideas and their authors

a very nice account of some of the greatest idea in mathematics as well as philosophy and politics. Well read.