From Eternity to Here: The Quest
for the Ultimate Theory of Time
Scientists have never been able to
clearly explain why the laws of physics,
on paper, work equally well forward or
backward in time (see essay on Page 26)
yet real life offers only a one-way street
into the future. Innumerable books
have been written about the conundrum
of time’s direction, or “arrow,” but none
have succeeded in
answering the ques-
tion to everyone’s
satisfaction. So now
there’s another one.
Sean Carroll’s artic-
avoids any preten-
sion of solving the problem. Instead, he
tells a rich story of the various attempts
to track time’s arrow to its source,
which clearly has something to do with
the second law of thermodynamics.
That law requires the amount of dis-
order, or entropy, in a closed system
to stay the same or increase over time
The Whale: In Search of the
Giants of the Sea
People impressed by the size of dinosaurs should be really enthralled by
whales: These aquatic mammals include
the heftiest creatures ever to have lived,
and they still share the planet with us.
In his chronicle of the leviathans,
British biographer Philip Hoare tells
both of his childhood fascination with
whales and his recent snorkeling among
them. Part travelogue and part history
lesson, the book is peppered with facts
about all sorts of cetaceans, from diminutive porpoises and unicorn-horned
narwhals to massive blue whales.
But the biggest slice of this literary
and artistic tour of the cetacean world
is dedicated to the sperm whale, the
largest predator ever to have roamed
the Earth, and to the whaling industry
that pursued these beasts and inspired
Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick.
until reaching its maximum possible
level. Time marches forward because
entropy in the past was lower than now.
But that explanation merely restates
the problem by defining “the past” as
a time of lower entropy. Explaining
time’s arrow, Carroll asserts, requires
explaining why entropy was so low at
the Big Bang.
He suggests that unknown universes
exist, some with an arrow of time pointing in the opposite direction. Thus the
whole “multiverse” of universes has
overall time symmetry, while the universe that humans inhabit travels along
its entropy-driven one-way street. In
describing how this might happen,
Carroll provides many entertaining and
intuitively graspable descriptions of
bizarre phenomena, from the weirdness
of quantum entanglement to the birth of
baby universes out of nothingness. To be
sure, time’s arrow remains something of
a mystery, but much of the physics surrounding the paradox is demystified for
the diligent reader by Carroll’s expressive account. — Tom Siegfried
Dutton, 2010, 438 p., $26.95.
Before the discovery and widespread
use of petroleum and natural gas, oil
from sperm whales lit major cities from
London to New York, making the whaling port of New Bedford, Mass., the
richest city in America for a while.
By weaving liter-
ary threads with
excerpts from the
nals of 19th century
whalers, Hoare takes
readers on a virtual
ride in whale boats
of old. From there,
he chronicles the
birth of the conservation movement
and humans’ shifting relationship
with whales. The creatures remain
mysterious, he notes — after all, people
saw Earth from space before under-
water photography revealed whales in
their habitat. — Sid Perkins
Dennis Shasha and
puters using biologi-
cal approaches could
from finance to pharmacology.
W. W. Norton, 2010, 268 p., $16.95.
Nonsense on Stilts:
How to Tell Science
A philosopher exam-
ines science and
pseudoscience in med-
icine, climate change and more. Univ.
of Chicago Press, 2010, 332 p., $20.
How Pleasure Works:
The New Science of
Why We Like What
ogy and economics
inform what makes something—or
someone — pleasurable. W. W. Norton,
2010, 280 p., $26.95.
John Theberge and
The forces of ecology
and genetics combine
to drive evolution and
organize life as it is today. McClelland
& Stewart, 2010, 416 p., $28.95.
Deadly Kingdom: The
Book of Dangerous
The animal kingdom
offers myriad ways to
kill a human, this sur-
vey of lethal tactics shows. Random
House, 2010, 324 p., $27.
How to Order To order these books or others,
visit www.sciencenews.org/bookshelf. A click on
a book’s title will transfer you to Amazon.com.