Christopher Potter

One of the best popular science books I have ever read. It fully lives up to the hype generated by the pre-publication reviews and by Stephen Fry’s blurb on the dustjacket.

Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian


One of the most entertaining and thoughtful pop-science books to be published for years.

The Sunday Times Summer Reading


Erudite, elegant and thoughtfully constructed.

Wonderful stuff, the most thoughtful pop science book of the last few years.

Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times


In this book, which is hugely fun to read, Christopher Potter, who is not a scientist by trade, tries to explain everything — by which I mean everything in the universe — in slightly less than 300 pages. I read it in an evening, with a sense of increasing excitement, and then vertigo, and finally a sort of stunned awe. Potter has written a wonderful account of the universe we live in, which is also a history of science, and touches, in some places, on a philosophical investigation.

Potter will inspire lots of people.

William Leith, The Standard


With marvellous clarity, compassion, erudition, humour and open-mindedness, Potter blasts us through the vast vacuum of space. Packing in facts about satellites, planets and rotating black holes, he takes us to the outer limits of an expanding universe. Then he sucks us back through the mini-universes inside ourselves, to atoms and their component particles and on into quantum theory. He explains the theories of Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, Darwin and Dirac, giving the “unfeeling” science a human context by quoting from poets, prophets and philosophers of all eras and ethnicities. We’re guided through the mysteries of the Large Hadron Collider and asked to consider forces deemed “unworthy” of science, like love. We’re reminded that all knowledge is provisional and reassured that: “To be at peace with the universe is not easy.”

Helen Brown, The Telegraph


He effortlessly transcends any nonsense about CP Snow’s “two cultures” (science vs humanities) as he weaves together physics, philosophy, palaeoanthropology and Proust into a grand synthesis. Although a mathematician by training, he eschews equations and is disarmingly honest about his (and our) limitations. Potter has a relaxed, man-in-an-armchair voice and an urbanity that put me in mind of Alastair Cooke, but talking about pulsars and genomes rather than American politicians.

Andy Martin,  The Independent


We are waltzed through a history of scientific thinking, a brief history of human development (with genetics thrown in) and a brisk briefing on the formation and history of our galaxy.

Less folksy and biographical than Bill Bryson, less zany than a Bluffer’s Guide. But many a bang for your buck, washed down with quotations from the greats.

Almost no scientific knowledge is required because it is all supplied by the book itself, though a familiarity with arithmetic would come in handy when those big numbers are being bandied about.

Potter has an engaging style, with many an entertaining diversion.

Rita Carter, The Mail


This “Portable History of the Universe” is awe-inspiring in its reach. It ranges easily over millions of miles and takes in billions of centuries at a stroke, yet at the same time it’s somehow intimate and conversational in its manner.

His book opens up to us the vastness of the cosmos.

Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman


Christopher Potter’s new book sweeps across both space and time in an ambitious attempt to show what science has revealed about our place in the cosmos in a way that is accessible and yet doesn’t skimp on the science.

Potter’s crisp, authoritative writing and his deft handling of difficult subjects makes this a book worth reading.

Anyone drawn to “the big questions” will enjoy this latest synthesis.

Dan Falk, New Scientist


An idiosyncratic, encyclopedic blitzkrieg of a book.

Even if you already know the science Potter surveys, his speed and style will keep you reading. He’s a clean, swift writer, as likely to quote John Updike, Thomas Mann, or Friedrich Nietzsche as he is Richard Feynman or Isaac Newton. And this book is very briskly paced; in less than 300 pages, he left me dizzy.

Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe


Reading “You Are Here” is like taking a guided tour of the universe with a private car and driver. Potter discourses with ease while all the grand theories and grand thinkers – relativity, evolution, quantum field theory, string theory, Pythagoras, Galileo, Einstein – flash by the window. He meditates on the origins and ascent of life through the eons, on the infinitesimally tiny atom systems within our bodies and the infinitely vast galactic systems beyond our own, cavorting on the edge of the space-time continuum in a way that tends to make people unbearably nervous: to induce existential vertigo, as he puts it more elegantly, giving us in the course of a few hours’ time quite an advanced education in certainties and their opposite.

Amanda Heller, Boston Globe


One of the best short surveys of science and its history in recent years.

Kirkus Review


Fun, highly readable guide to the origin’s of the universe.

New York magazine


For those who found Stephen Hawking as clear as a black hole, Christopher Potter’s You Are Here offers a friendly, poetic introduction to our current understanding of the big bang, relativity, evolution, life, particle physics and the universe in general.

Potter is here to hold our hands and walk us through the universe, and he is an excellent tour guide.

Potter has created a friendly and poetic introduction to the current understanding of the universe. He begins by mapping out the heavens, light-year by light-year, and then turns his gaze to the minuscule and the quantum (admitting, even, that some scientists think quantum physics makes no sense). He covers evolution and explains the birth process of a star, all the while sparing us from feeling like idiots if we get lost in the theory.

“Nature resists our attempts to uncover her secrets,” the author writes. That she does — but at least we have writers as patient and clever as Christopher Potter to translate those secrets we have uncovered.

Jessa Crispin, Books We Like, NPR



Any reader who has avoided science for fear of being overwhelmed will find a friendly guide in Potter.

This clear and smoothly written look at the mind-boggling history of everything is both informative and provocative.

Publishers Weekly



Every thing you need to know about science.

There’s too much in here to internalize on one reading, so — and what more praise does a book need — you’re going to have to read it again.






A sort of commonplace book full of paradox and conflicting ideas, shocking facts and redemptive anecdotes, turbulent with two or three millennia of human thought … by turns pessimistic and celebratory, mawkish and solemn … The source material is wonderfully diverse … [How To Make A Human Being] has great fun bringing the work of canonical writers together with a loose philosophical examination of some of the big existential questions … Very enjoyable.




Christopher Potter’s first book, “You Are Here”, was a dazzling introduction for non-scientists to cutting-edge physics … Potter now focuses inward, turning from physics to neuroscience, biology and philosophy. He asks not “where are we?”, but “who are we?” — and finds that science does not have half the answers it thinks. Still, science’s best efforts, as gathered here, feel pretty rich and wonderful … A clever, subtle, enjoyable book. If we are a parliament of selves, this book is a parliament of explanations — and a deeply English one, at that, full of idiosyncrasy and resistance to easy answers.

Sunday Times



A quirky and effective way of managing material that has engaged and baffled the greatest minds since antiquity.

New Statesman



Potter illuminates the human in all its manifestations from single cell to creator of culture … The scattershot narrative somehow coalesces into a brilliant whole and a compelling case for anti-reductionism.



Guardian Interview

It takes a true master of literature to interweave history and science into one unified narrative that recounts how humankind progressed from flying planes to building rockets and, ultimately, flying into space while also giving full credit to all those involved. Potter (You Are Here, 2009) expertly and creatively allows the reader to follow the lives of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, the life and legacy of Robert Goddard, and the ongoing internal conflict and perseverance of Wernher von Braun. Potter uses his expert skills as researcher, writer, and publisher to bring to light the miraculous and often disastrous and heartbreaking process required for landing a man on the moon. Potter covers the discoveries and technology involved while inviting readers into the private lives of the people involved in aviation, atmospheric sciences, and space science, and the result is a hard-to-put-down book that is both informative and highly entertaining. All readers interested in aviation, space travel, and seminal figures will enjoy the book’s thoroughness. Highly recommended for public libraries and book clubs.



A history of the space program told through the lens of the handful of astronauts who have seen the Earth from space. Only 24 men, all Apollo astronauts, have seen our planet from afar. After delivering this bit of astronomical trivia, British science writer and former publisher Potter (You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe, 2009) rewinds the clock to describe how this came about. There is no shortage of histories of space travel; the author's approach is quirky, scattershot, and full of digressions, but it works beautifully. He opens with Charles Lindbergh, perhaps the first digression, although he was as much an enthusiast for space travel as flight. Then Potter settles into his theme with portraits of the iconic pioneers—Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braun—followed by a long history of America's manned space program, which peaked with the glories of the 1968-1972 Apollo moon flights. Without neglecting technical and biographical details, the author gives priority to the exhilarating effect of space travel on the astronauts and (fleetingly) everyone else. Readers will be amused to learn that Apollo's designers considered photography a distraction and refused to permit cameras onboard until the astronauts themselves forced a change. More interesting is a long digression on Madalyn O'Hair, a celebrity atheist in the 1960s and '70s whose hectoring persuaded NASA to discourage astronauts from delivering biblical quotes from space. The U.S. abruptly cancelled the Apollo program at the end of 1972, and today only one nation—China—has an active manned space program. As von Braun saw it, "to make a one-night stand on the Moon and go there no more would be as senseless as building a railroad and then only making one trip from New York to Los Angeles." Despite covering familiar ground, Potter delivers an enthralling account of the golden age of manned space travel that emphasizes the transcendent experiences of everyone involved, and he makes a convincing case that America lost something vital when it ended. 

Kirkus Review (starred)


Though modern history is intrinsically wrapped up with aeronautics, world wars, and the space race, The Earth Gazers is the first account I’ve read that integrates what happened in America, Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union to change the way we view and travel the Earth today. In clear, eminently readable, and insightful prose Potter describes the technological advances, the culture, and the context that changed our relationship to the sky and to space, while all the time forcing us to reflect on our humanity and how much and how little these advances have influenced our perspective.

Lisa Randall, Frank B Baird Jr, Professor of Science, Harvard University, author of Warped Passages, Knocking on Heaven’s Door and Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs


Christopher Potter’s history of the great adventure catches the tension between the sublime escape represented by space travel and the hideous detail of getting there; the euphoria of great ambition and the bleak anticlimax of touchdown.



Christopher Potter, a science historian and former publisher, has taken a considered risk in retelling the tale of how we first came to see our planet from the outside. It pays off beautifully. The result is a fresh and elegantly wrought account of mankind’s journey from firing lumps of jerry-rigged metal from cabbage fields to crunching around in the dust of another world.