God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything

Book Review by Dr Jurgen Gatt

Please accept my apologies for reviewing a well-known book by a renowned, and late, atheist almost ten years after publication. My reasons for doing so are threefold. Firstly, the book and author have both lost some of their notoriety with younger students. Secondly, the book should appeal to both to humanities and science students and will, with luck, generate conversation across disciplines. And finally, the book is brilliantly written, cleverly argued, and deserves to be read particularly after the dust of the New-Atheist movement has started (perhaps) to settle.Continue reading

The Universe Within

Book Review

Would you like to learn about how the cosmos works? Why it relates to our society? In short, how quantum physics can change your life? Then read The Universe Within by Neil Turok.

The laws of mathematics and physics rule our Universe. Neil Turok does not shy away from showing a few equations then devoting pages to what they mean, so you might need to come equipped with some basic mathematical skills.

The Universe Within is yet another astrophysics/quantum physics book talking about our amazing and wonderful Universe. It uses the typical formula of talking about the usual heavyweights like Einstein and Newton amongst others. However, Turok surprises by talking about oft glossed over scientists namely from the Scottish Enlightenment. At the turn of the 18th century, Scotland proved the unlikely source of leading intellectuals such as Adam Smith (who invented capitalism), David Hume (revolutionised philosophical thought), and James Watt (invented the steam engine). Turok also focuses on the achievements of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell (responsible for finding out the relation between electricity and magnetism, which drives devices from electrical generators to wireless chargers).

Turok loves science. This drive leads to some great moments in the book. He has one of the most beautiful descriptions of the Big Bang, space-time, and Einstein’s E=mc2you might finally understand them all. He has a nice style if uneven. At times, he falters by being too academic and using overly complicated analogies.

The scientific idea behind the whole book is his explanation to take the Universe into the quantum domain. He sees the Universe as having existed before the Big Bang and that it will exist past the following Big Bang. ‘There was no beginning of time nor will there be an end: the Universe is eternal.’

“He sees the Universe as having existed before the Big Bang and that it will exist past the following Big Bang”

Through this book Neil comes across as an enlightened man. One of his predictions sees the next Einstein arise from Africa. This continent is full of untapped potential and has enough problems to fill all the issues of THINK a few times over. To solve them you need scientists and skilled people. With this in mind he helped set up the African Institute for Mathematical Sciencesa true visionary, who had to flee South Africa due to his parents’ role in trying to bring down British apartheid.

Turok also knows his philosophy. In the beginning, he links Einstein’s thoughts to Hume. Towards the end of the book more philosophical questions arise. This is one of my favourite parts of the book, till he strangely asks: might we be the means for the Universe to gain a consciousness for itself? He also sees quantum physics as a role model for society, and manages to sneak in how quantum computers will evolve with humans making some form of hybrid species.

The author has a good heart. His ideas about the skills today’s children need, how scientists are human, and the meaning of life are beautiful. He also hits the nail on the head when writing, ‘politicians tend to think no further than the next election, scientists no further than the next grant’. This book is worth a read, and if you don’t understand it you’ll definitely look clever having it on your coffee table.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Book Review


Richard Feynman is my new idol. He’s hallucinated, he’s chatted up call girls, and he’s won a Nobel Prize. Realistically, I’ll probably only manage one of those achievements.

Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character is as amazing a book as was Dick himself. He died of cancer in 1989, three years after the book was published.

The book is a great read and insight into his mind. It is compiled from a series of taped conversation that Feynman had with drumming partner Ralph Leighton. It haphazardly goes through his life from young radio mechanic to Professor at Caltech where he achieved most of his discoveries.

Throughout the book he randomly switches from girls, mathematics, academic life, to his adventures. This nicely sums up his life.

Take Brazil. He travelled there from Caltech during a sabbatical. There he learnt to play Samba music choosing the frigiderisa — a metal stick banged on a toy metal frying pan. ‘I practiced all the time. I’d walk along the beach […] practicing, practicing, practicing. I kept working on it, but I always felt inferior.‘ Insecurity that culminated in him walking down Brazil’s main streets, cars diverted, while his samba band made the streets dance.

“Once Feynman overcame his social awkwardness, he became a famous womaniser”

Feynman didn’t hold back his punches; if he didn’t agree with something he said it. He heavily criticised the Brazilian education system. ‘I tried to show them (students) how to solve problems by trial and error. […] I could never get them to ask […] questions.’ When surrounded by Brazil’s big shots, he said: ‘no science is being taught in Brazil. […] It’s amazing you don’t find many physicists in Brazil. Why is that?’ Magically, government listened.

Once Feynman overcame his social awkwardness, he became a famous womaniser. Girls crop up throughout most of the book. And he’s good. They would even buy him champagne and sandwiches. As most things in his life, he did it for fun and loved the game.

He writes a lot more about experiences with other women than with his three wives. His first wife’s death touched him deeply, however. ‘I didn’t cry until a couple of months later […] walking past a department store with dresses in the window.’ His other wives aren’t mentioned much.

Feynman also dabbled in drugs. He took ketamine, smoked marijuana, and might have taken LSD — denied in this book but suggested elsewhere.

He also had a short art career and managed to sell his paintings, though he lost his drive to paint by having a solo exhibition too early in his art career.

Another highlight of the book is Feynman’s colourful descriptions of the Manhattan Project that made the first atomic bomb, including how he lock-picked the project’s secrets. He also mentions his great discoveries but is incredibly humble and dismissive about his Nobel Prize — too much hassle. He beautifully describes how he came to his findings and his nervousness when meeting Einstein and Pauli.

Feynman’s genius and eccentricity is clear throughout the book. It will have you in fits. He went on all fours to sniff the world to see how much better dogs can sniff than us — apparently, not much. Life was his game, and boy did he play well.