Tag: cosmology

“Where is everybody?”

We Need to Talk about KelvinHere’s an intriguing question to start the new year with.

Last autumn I interviewed Marcus Chown about his latest popular science title, We Need to Talk about Kelvin. At the end of the interview (which you can find here), we made this short video in which Marcus tackled a question famously posed by the Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi, who developed the first nuclear reactor.

Turning to his fellow scientists one day over lunch in 1950, he asked, “Where is everybody?” He wasn’t referring to absent colleagues, but the apparent absence of signs of other intelligent life in the universe.

Click on the video below to hear Marcus’s take on whether we are alone…

Books of the Decade – Christopher Potter

Christopher Potter Christopher Potter, after a distinguished career in publishing of over two decades, published his own first book this year: You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe, which the Sunday Times called “wonderful stuff, the most thoughtful pop science book of the last few years” and which New Scientist praised for its “crisp, authoritative writing and deft handling of difficult subjects”.

In August, Christopher appeared in programme 29 on Podularity – “A Walk across the Universe” – which you can listen to by clicking here.

[Author photograph: © Joyce Ravid]

Philip Roth: The Humbling (2009)

Roth: HumblingThe Humbling is Philip Roth’s seventh novel of this decade, and though far from being his finest, even Roth under par is more appealing to me than the work of almost anyone else alive and writing today. The Human Stain, published at the beginning of this decade, still resonates in my mind.

With another novel already promised for 2010 – Nemesis – we can only hope for another decade of astonishing fecundity.

Junot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

Diaz: Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoAs an editor of books for over twenty years, I found myself with little time and almost no inclination to read contemporary writers other than those that were either submitted to me or whom I ended up publishing.

Part of the delight of these last four years outside publishing has been the rediscovery of reading as pure pleasure. (It has taken me a long time to break the habit of reading with a pencil in my hand.)

The novel of the last few years that stands out to me is Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). When a new voice is as powerful as his, as funny, original and shocking, to read contemporary fiction feels like urgent necessity rather than escapist diversion.

Annie Proulx: Fine Just the Way It Is (2008)

Proulx: Fine Just the Way it isYes, I admit to being Annie Proulx’s British editor, but see above. And in any case I had left by the time Fine Just the Way It Is was published (2008). Annie Proulx is of course a very fine novelist, but she is an even greater writer of short stories.

In this third collection of stories set in Wyoming are several stories that are works of genius; classics to set aside Brokeback Mountain, the story that assures her immortality and which was published at the end of the last decade.

Faber podcast November 2009

Jenny Uglow reads from ‘A Gambling man’

Jenny Uglow: A Gambling Man

“The old king had been killed in the winter chill at the dead, dark turn of the year; the new king had come in the warmth of spring, like life revived.”

After years in exile, Charles returned to England in May 1660 to become king. Click here to hear Jenny Uglow read about his triumphant return, and the hopes and expectations which it gave rise to.

“The packed theatres, suffocating on hot days, were ripe with the smell of sweat, powder and heady perfume… In the crush there was always a scent of sex, with assignations in the pit and the boxes, glances from audience to stage and back.”

Click here to listen to an extract about the theatre during the Restoration.

Marcus chown reads from ‘We need to talk about kelvin’

Chown: We Need to Talk about Kelvin

“The sun is mostly made of hydrogen and weighs about a billion, billion, billion tonnes. But put a billion, billion, billion tonnes of bananas or a billion, billion, billion tonnes of microwave ovens in one place and the end result will be the same – a glowing ball of gas pretty much as hot as the sun.”

Click here to find out how scientists first discovered how hot the sun is and why.

“One striking feature of the world is so obvious that, like the darkness of the sky at night, it is almost never remarked upon…”

Click here to find out what this feature is.

two questions for marcus chown

    1. We asked Marcus to tell us what the hardest scientific concept was that he had had to grapple with in writing We Need to Talk about Kelvin. Click here to find out what he said.
    2. Is anybody out there? We asked Marcus about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Click here to hear his answer – it may surprise you!

faber podcast november 2009

Click here to listen to the podcast featuring interviews with Jenny Uglow and Marcus Chown.

And click here for freestanding interview with Jenny Uglow…

and here for the interview with Marcus Chown.

29. A walk across the universe

Potter: You Are Here cover“Why is there something rather than nothing?” asked the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz several centuries ago. It’s one of the main questions animating Christopher Potter‘s first book, You Are Here. And given that there is something, how did it come into being? And how for that matter did we come into being, several billions of years after the universe began?

These are some of the potentially dizzying questions that set Christopher’s investigation of the universe and our place in it in motion. This “portable history of the universe” ranges in its purview from the infinitely large and far away – distances measured in billions of light years – to the infinitely small (which he calls “the realm of tininess”), which is equally important to our understanding of how the universe works. Read More