Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand: Fifty Wonders That Reveal an Extraordinary Universe – Marcus Chown

Although I’ve had the best of intentions I haven’t studied science as an adult. I had an amazing science teacher in my first year of high school who inspired me and made me want to pursue a scientific career. This dream then disintegrated over the next three years as all my subsequent science teacher managed to inspire was the desire to sleep through their classes. While I still intend to one day be able to have an informed and intelligent conversation about string theory, I currently sit firmly in science nerd wannabe territory.

My wannabe status is probably what drew me to this book and its conversational tone and lack of complex mathematics equations makes it accessible to readers without prior knowledge of the scientific discoveries and theories it explains.

There’s a smorgasbord to enjoy within each of the seven parts:

  • Biological Things
  • Human Things
  • Terrestrial Things
  • Solar System Things
  • Fundamental Things
  • Extraterrestrial Things, and
  • Cosmic Things.

Given the bite size chunks of information each contain, they provide a taste of some of the marvels the universe has to offer. (Why, yes, it is almost dinner time. Why do you ask?! 😜)

While I learned enough about some topics to satisfy me I was able to narrow down some areas of interest to explore further. Each of the fifty chapters begins with a single sentence statement that may or may not give you a clue about what’s to come, followed by a quote and then several pages of explanation.

A lot of the initial statements are pretty incredible without any further explanation, for example,

“Today your body will build about 300 billion cells”.

Beginning the explanation the author makes a comparison to put this into perspective, noting that’s

“more cells than there are stars in our Milky Way galaxy.”

For those of us without scientific degrees, a cell is explained as

“a tiny transparent bag of gloop.”

Then you learn some amazing facts about your cells that should make you appear smarter than you actually are when you find a way to casually pass this information along to some unsuspecting bystander.

My favourite opening statements of the book were:

“You are born 100 percent human but die 50 percent alien”

“In the future, time might run backwards”

“The universe may have at least ten dimensions”

“Time travel is not ruled out by the laws of physics”.

My main problem with this book was its repetitiveness. I don’t mind when an author reminds a reader that a topic was previously explored in whatever chapter number so you can review that if need be but in this book some pieces of information were repeated almost verbatim. For example, in chapter 25, when talking about quantum theory, the author notes

It is fantastically successful. It has given us lasers and computers and nuclear reactors. It explains why the sun shines and why the ground beneath our feet is solid.

This is repeated in chapter 43, where the only difference is “our” becoming “your”. If you are only reading single chapters over a significant length of time or if you’re quoting a specific chapter to said bystander, this would not be a problem. However, if you’re reading from cover to cover, the multiple instances of repetition become tedious.

Thank you to NetGalley and Diversion Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Bestselling author Marcus Chown explores some of the most profound and important science about us, our world and beyond by examining some astonishing facts that reveal the vast complexities of the universe.

There is much about our world that seems to make perfect sense, and important scientific breakthroughs have helped us understand ourselves, our planet and our place in the universe in fascinating detail. But our adventures in space, our deepening understanding of the quantum world and huge leaps in technology over the last century have also revealed a universe far stranger than we could ever have imagined.

With brilliant clarity and wit, bestselling author Marcus Chown examines the profound science behind fifty remarkable scientific facts that help explain the vast complexities of our existence. Did you know that you could fit the whole human race in the volume of a sugar cube? Or that the electrical energy in a single mosquito is enough to cause a global mass extinction? Or that, out there in the cosmos, there are an infinite number of copies of you reading an infinite number of copies of this?

Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand is a mind-bending journey through some of the most weird and wonderful facts about our universe, vividly illuminating the hidden truths that govern our everyday lives.

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