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You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Christopher Potter

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146581,994 (4.02)3
Member:darrow
Title:You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe
Authors:Christopher Potter
Info:Harper (2009), Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter (2009)

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Showing 5 of 5
A lucid, readable explanation of the physics of the universe. The author does a particularly good job of explaining relativity in easy to understand terms, which is a valuable service. I did find the approach of the book somewhat unedifying and, in many places, dull, as he carried out his ever increasing discussions of size and time. I think there are other ways this could have been approached which would have been more interesting and compelling. I also thought some of his ruminations on science, philosophy, and religion were a bit mushy and light-headed for someone who had written such a strongly evidence-based science book. I do agree that science needs philosophy, and vice versa, but the author makes no compelling argument as to why science needs religion; indeed, he basically just makes statements that are not supported by anything that could be called logical argumentation. He appears to just assume the reader will accept his formulations. This is not acceptable in a book dealing with topics that so require critical thinking to understand. Mysticism has pervaded way too much of physics in recent years, and would have been much better left out of this work altogether. And the quote from Jastrow in the final chapter about science climbing a peak and finding theologians have been there for centuries is laughable, particularly coming as it does at the end of a book that has provided plenty of evidence to the contrary, but doesn't seem to recognize it. In fact, every time scientists climb a peak, they find it was the Greeks, or the Egyptians, or some other early civilization that was there before, or that the peak is empty, and just now being conquered. They then yank the theologians along by the hair of their head, with them (the theologians) kicking and screaming the whole way until they finally reach the peak; then, those same theologians assume the moral high ground, and claim they were there all along, even when the historical records plainly dictate otherwise. And there will always be someone like this author perfectly willing to play their game, take them at their word, and gamely help them create new truths out of whole cloth. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | May 22, 2012 |
Reading You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter will make you sexier. I know, what an outrageous claim to make, but it's true. Why? Because intelligent, smart, well-informed people are sexy. I won't lie, I struggled through You Are Here, as it is full of complex subject matter and the last time I took a physics class was in 7th grade, when we made pulleys. The last time I took an earth science class was in 10th grade, and well, I will admit I used to come in everyday, sleep, and then copy my friend's notes. Despite being head over heels in love with a geologist, I don't really understand or know much about science. You could mention the term string-theory to me and I would probably think you were talking about knitting.You Are Here made me sexier because it helped me to correct some of my ignorance about the universe and about science. I never really understood why black holes are such a big deal. I couldn't have told you what the Big Bang Theory was. But now, I feel I can tell you the basics of relativity (measuring something by using another thing in relation), that Pythagoras did not actually come up with the Pythagorean Theorem (a-squared plus b-squared = c-squared), and what a red giant is (not a character in a fantasy novel). It feels good to know these terms and ideas. I like learning about history. I like learning. I should hope we never stop learning, even after leaving the hallowed halls of school and university.This book is definitely a book you should read slowly because the theories, facts, and ideas do take some time to process. It is dense material. I mean, there was one chapter on measuring and numbers and it was so hard for me to get through because my brain doesn't process numbers as well as it does literary things. The most interesting chapter was on evolution. I took a biological anthropology class, so I have a little background in that, and well I love to say "homo heidelbergensis" (fricken cool). Again, it's interesting to know the ideas of where we come from. Potter doesn't exactly discount creationism, nor is he disrespectful towards it, so yes, this book is theology-friendly.Overall, although I struggled through this book and it took me forever, I am glad I read, if only because I can now hold a conversation with my love on his favorite subject, science. Lord knows he's put up with my prattling on books for long enough.I really liked these quotes from You Are Here:"Science is a way of translating that individual experience of the world into collective experience." -pg. 55"What launched the scientific revolution was not the placing of the sun at the center of the cosmos, so much as the removal of the earth. It's not about us."- pg. 80"In scientific discourse the poetry is in mathematics and the same lanugage judges them alike: symmetry, elegance, simplicity, brevity, subtlety, profundity are the highest qualities of both means of apprehending reality." - pg. 159"It's how the words are put together that matters, and that's definitely true of the language of life, which has a very small vocabulary and is written in few sentences." - pg. 226"As the American astronomer and physicist Robert Jastrow (1925-2008) has predicted: the scientist who has climbed the highest peak may find 'as he pulls himself over the final rock, [that:] he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries" - pg. 274 ( )
  booksandwine | Oct 7, 2010 |
Reading You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter will make you sexier. I know, what an outrageous claim to make, but it's true. Why? Because intelligent, smart, well-informed people are sexy. I won't lie, I struggled through You Are Here, as it is full of complex subject matter and the last time I took a physics class was in 7th grade, when we made pulleys. The last time I took an earth science class was in 10th grade, and well, I will admit I used to come in everyday, sleep, and then copy my friend's notes. Despite being head over heels in love with a geologist, I don't really understand or know much about science. You could mention the term string-theory to me and I would probably think you were talking about knitting.

You Are Here made me sexier because it helped me to correct some of my ignorance about the universe and about science. I never really understood why black holes are such a big deal. I couldn't have told you what the Big Bang Theory was. But now, I feel I can tell you the basics of relativity (measuring something by using another thing in relation), that Pythagoras did not actually come up with the Pythagorean Theorem (a-squared plus b-squared = c-squared), and what a red giant is (not a character in a fantasy novel). It feels good to know these terms and ideas. I like learning about history. I like learning. I should hope we never stop learning, even after leaving the hallowed halls of school and university.

This book is definitely a book you should read slowly because the theories, facts, and ideas do take some time to process. It is dense material. I mean, there was one chapter on measuring and numbers and it was so hard for me to get through because my brain doesn't process numbers as well as it does literary things. The most interesting chapter was on evolution. I took a biological anthropology class, so I have a little background in that, and well I love to say "homo heidelbergensis" (fricken cool). Again, it's interesting to know the ideas of where we come from. Potter doesn't exactly discount creationism, nor is he disrespectful towards it, so yes, this book is theology-friendly.

Overall, although I struggled through this book and it took me forever, I am glad I read, if only because I can now hold a conversation with my love on his favorite subject, science. Lord knows he's put up with my prattling on books for long enough.

I really liked these quotes from You Are Here:

"Science is a way of translating that individual experience of the world into collective experience." -pg. 55

"What launched the scientific revolution was not the placing of the sun at the center of the cosmos, so much as the removal of the earth. It's not about us."- pg. 80

"In scientific discourse the poetry is in mathematics and the same lanugage judges them alike: symmetry, elegance, simplicity, brevity, subtlety, profundity are the highest qualities of both means of apprehending reality." - pg. 159

"It's how the words are put together that matters, and that's definitely true of the language of life, which has a very small vocabulary and is written in few sentences." - pg. 226

"As the American astronomer and physicist Robert Jastrow (1925-2008) has predicted: the scientist who has climbed the highest peak may find 'as he pulls himself over the final rock, [that] he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries" - pg. 274 ( )
  booksandwine | Mar 5, 2010 |
Coming as it does from a non-scientist author, this book includes a surprisingly informed and interesting take on fundamental physics (cum cosmology). Most other non-scientists, apparently, don't want to know "that we do not have free will; that the mind is merely a quality of the brain; that gods do not exist; that the only reality is material reality; that any knowledge that isn't scientific knowledge is not just worthless, it isn't knowledge at all." (p 4) How pathetic! At the very end, sad to say, he ventures some opinions that will annoy most scientists.
  fpagan | Apr 30, 2009 |
This book contains answers to questions that I didn’t know I wanted to ask! It’s written in a clear, concise and captivating manner – even someone like me who finds the sciences and mathematics totally bewildering managed to understand the basics. If ever anything got confusing the footnotes often helped to simplify things further. My mind boggled at all the fascinating information collected by Potter, and I admired the witty style he uses to get his explanations across. I was also intrigued by all the author and book references and the way Potter linked them to his factual topics. I found myself humbled to learn about the discoveries made over the years by scientists, mathematicians and authors. To have been at the forefront of these amazing discoveries must have been truly awesome. This is an absorbing book that had me reading snippets out to anyone in earshot and one that I know I will be dipping into again and again. I’d recommend this to anyone with an inquisitive mind and think it will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. I’d say it would probably be suitable for readers from early teens and upwards and can see it becoming a ‘must have’ book. ( )
1 vote kehs | Jan 6, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061137863, Hardcover)

You Are Here is a dazzling exploration of the universe and our relationship to it, as seen through the lens of today's most cutting-edge scientific thinking. Christopher Potter brilliantly parses the meaning of what we call the universe. He tells the story of how something evolved from nothing and how something became everything. What does a material description of everything and nothing look like? What is it that science does when it describes a reality that is made out of something? In between nothing and everything is where we live.

Here, for the first time in a single span, is the life of the universe, from quarks to galaxy superclusters and from slime to Homo sapiens. The universe was once a moment of perfect symmetry and is now 13.7 billion years of history. Clouds of gas were woven into whatever complexity we find in the universe today: the hierarchies of stars or the brains of mammals. Potter writes entertainingly about the history and philosophy of science, and he shows that science advances by continually removing humankind from a position of primacy in the universe, but the universe responds by placing us back there again.

With wisdom and wonder, Potter traverses the cosmos from its conception to its eventual end—while exploring everything in between.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:44 -0400)

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A dazzling exploration of the universe and our relationship to it, as seen through the lens of today's most cutting-edge scientific thinking.

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