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.
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
Potter’s genial exegesis of the mysteries of the universe, in which quarks, squarks, and “vibrating lengths of pure energy” are elegantly expounded.
He gives a foothold to the floundering with evocative description—“A beard grows a few nanometres in the time taken to raise a razor to the skin”—and with liberal doses of trivia. Among other things, he notes that the moon was formed when a huge planetary collision blew the crust of the earth into the atmosphere, and that the human body contains ten times as many bacterial cells as human ones. Most compellingly, Potter examines the provisional nature of scientific inquiry, in which conjecture can lead to insight and a weakness of a hypothesis can become a strength.
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.
Christopher Potter is a skilled writer with a sincere interest in the search for the secrets of the universe, and his book is a layman’s compelling journey that succeeds in mapping out the complicated evolution of science and its quest for knowledge.
You Are Here is a triumph of popular science that clearly and succinctly elucidates the significance of the subject at hand. It is a book that should be put into the hands of every high school freshman, so they may better understand the goals and purposes of physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, and anthropology before their leaden, lifeless textbooks chase them out of science classrooms. It is a book that should be read by adults, to attain a fuller picture of how our world works, so they may take some time to fully contemplate the enormity of what surrounds them and the improbability of their own existence.
Michael Patrick Brady, popmatters
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. Even then, to paraphrase Potter’s quote of the wise Thomas Edison, you probably still won’t know a millionth of one percent about anything.
Gilbert Cruz, Time
For his elegant debut, Potter set out to write a history of the universe. And if that project sounds ambitious to you, imagine pulling it off in less than 300 pages.
Like the Powers of Ten postcard books you sometimes find in museum gift shops, Potter’s book, You Are Here, begins with impossibly small things (like quarks and electrons), ends with incomprehensibly large ones (stars, galaxies, and the universe itself), and considers string theory, general relativity, and the paradoxes of quantum mechanics along the way. Potter has a knack for rattling off the latest scientific facts without eliding the deeper questions they raise, and he ends up with the mother of them all: Why is there something rather than nothing? That, Potter admits, is a cosmic mystery that science may never solve.
Very Short List
HOW TO MAKE A HUMAN BEING
YOU ARE HERE
YOU ARE HERE
‘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.’
Gavin Francis, Guardian
‘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.’
James McConnachie, Sunday Times
‘A quirky and effective way of managing material that has engaged and baffled the greatest minds since antiquity’
‘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’
See Sunday Times archive for book reviews.