In How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World (2018), Stefan Klein concisely introduces nearly a dozen major physics concepts in brief, engaging chapters that clearly inform even as they often entertain. Due to their brevity, the explanations are relatively simplified, but thanks to Klein’s economy of language and knack for analogy/metaphor, not overly so. Which makes the collection of essays a good primer to modern physics and an excellent stepping stone into longer, more substantive works on the subject.
The theme of the book is conveyed directly in the introduction, where Klein discusses how modern physics “changes our thinking, the way we see the world … [allows us] to look behind the veil of that which still seems self-evident to use today.” In that vein, many of his subjects involve discoveries and theories that overturned conventional scientific belief or seem to subvert common sense. Some of these topics include the Big Bang, entropy and time’s arrow, cosmic inflation, the multiverse, dark matter, and dark energy.
Klein doesn’t delve too deeply into the weeds on these; How to Love the Universe is divided into ten chapters which total only about 200 words (a Notes section takes up another 30 pages), and each chapter covers more topics than the singular major focus. It’s not that he shies away from any detail — he covers many a specific experiment and throws out lots of concrete numbers, such as the math on the odds of there being another planet like ours out there. But he mostly conveys the overarching fullness of the concepts in terms of the big picture — what they mean and how they fit into the world as we know it.
Better yet, he does so in wholly lucid fashion, with language and narrative form that is always clear and engaging, sometimes lyrical, sometimes playful, as when he employs a detective trying to solve a baffling series of heists in order to explain quantum entanglement (trust me, it works). Sometimes you read a popular book of science and feel you “got” what the author was saying so easily but also feel it’s because it was too dumbed down, too much was left out. Here you feel you “get” it because you trust Klein’s talent for transparently conveying what’s important and necessary to know. His voice is personal — he makes use of his own experiences multiple times — and conversational without a forced intimacy or humor that can sometimes infect such works.
If you read a lot of popular physics, you won’t find much new here — maybe an experiment or two, a name or three — but it’s a good refresher and one can’t help but take pleasure in the clarity and success. If you don’t read a lot of physics, then it’s hard to imagine a more welcoming introduction than How to Love the Universe.