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Explaining the complex with relatable simplicity to make sense of ideas that seem too big to grasp is the methodology that leading theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli applies to the writing of his slim book, which aims to show ‘those who know little or nothing about modern science’ that musing on the mysteries of the world need not be for the chosen few. First finding life as a series for the culture section of an Italian newspaper, Rovelli’s book initially left Fifty Shades of Grey in the dust on publication in Italy. The lessons cover Einstein’s general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, the architecture of the cosmos, elementary particles, gravity, the nature of the mind and black holes. One of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, Rovelli is the director of the quantum gravity group at the Centre de Physique Theorique of Aix-Marseille University in Provence, so it is particularly admirable that he writes on these heavy subjects with a light touch that is, relative to the subject, both vivid and entertaining. But there are no definitive answers here. Rovelli lays the basics out to be consumed, but also explains the open-endedness of it all, even for each field’s experts – and he closes with a note on global warming: ‘We belong to a short-lived genus or species,’ he writes. ‘All our cousins are already extinct. What’s more, we do damage.’ 

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