The Hidden Reality:
Parallel Universes and the
Deep Laws of the Cosmos
Anyone with a passing interest in cosmology knows by now that the universe
isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it isn’t
even the universe anymore.
A century ago, the “universe” was
supposedly everything that existed,
mainly just the Milky Way galaxy and
some fuzzy nebulae at an unknown
distance. But soon Edwin Hubble, with
help from many others, showed that the
Milky Way was merely one of billions of
“island universes,” eventually referred
to simply as galaxies so “universe” could
be retained as the name for everything.
In recent years this scenario has
repeated itself in the theoretical realm,
as physicists now speak seriously about
parallel universes, rendering the one
that humans inhabit just one of countless (literally) others. But this time,
remaking the universe isn’t as simple
as it was with galaxies. Parallel universes of many different flavors have
been conceived by physicists pursuing
The Social Animal: The Hidden
Sources of Love, Character, and
In his new book, New York Times colum-
nist Brooks describes human nature as
shaped by a search for mates and other
relationships, guided by unconscious
feelings about oneself and others that
develop early in life. Fair enough. That
idea has plenty of scientific supporters
and dates back more
than a century, even
if it ignores how con-
fit into the mix.
But Brooks’ narra-
tive fails to pick up
steam. First, he ush-
ers in two fictional
characters, Harold and Erica, but the
eventual spouses never develop into
fully realized characters. As a young
Erica tries to adjust to college and the
the implications of modern theories.
There are the “many worlds” of quantum physics, the “brane worlds” of
string theory and the multiple “bubble
universes” of inflationary Big Bang cosmology, to name just a few.
Greene, a prominent string theorist
well known for two previous popular
books, provides the
best guide available
(in this universe at
least) to the various
forms that parallel
take and the science
and most intriguing, is his discussion
of the parallel worlds that might exist
within advanced computer simula-
tions — The Matrix with a vengeance.
One small complaint: Much of the best
material is found in the extensive notes
at the back of the book. So don’t forget to
read them. And don’t even think about
touring other universes without packing
this book. — Tom Siegfried
Knopf, 2011, 372 p., $29.95.
legacy of an emotionally unstable
mother, Brooks veers into a discussion
of research on self-control. As Harold
discovers the joys of English, Brooks
takes an extended detour into experiments on how people acquire knowledge and achieve insights. And so on.
As Harold and Erica’s lives play out,
Brooks hilariously dissects the lifestyles
of the rich and overeducated types that
the pair encounter. The book begins with
Harold’s parents meeting at a resort frequented by what Brooks dubs the Composure Class. These effortless achievers
have looks, wealth and perfect families.
They are also ceaselessly annoying.
Brooks also succeeds at describing
research on social norms and cultural
differences. On the other hand, his
portrayal of decision making as an integration of countless past emotional
judgments is a stretch, based on what’s
currently known. — Bruce Bo wer
Philip S. Harrington
This guide to observing
the heavens beckons
to find 187 targets
using instruments ranging from
binoculars to monster scopes. Cam-
bridge Univ. Press, 2011, 469 p., $45.
An in-depth account
of the lives of sibling
and Caroline Herschel,
who discovered Uranus, comets
galore and much more. Princeton Univ.
Press, 2011, 237 p., $29.95.
How Old is the
David A. Weintraub
An astronomer outlines
the research showing
that the universe is
13. 7 billion years old. Princeton Univ.
Press, 2011, 370 p., $29.95.
Seven Wonders of
the Universe That
You Probably Took
C. Renée James
A lighthearted tour of
like light, time and gravity that also
explores what makes Earth special
and the evolution of life. Johns Hop-
kins Univ. Press, 2011, 240 p., $25.
Sara Russell and
A well-illustrated over-
view of the science and
(literal) impacts of these space rocks.
Firefly Books, 2011, 112 p., $19.95.
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.