About the Book
Some things are just guaranteed.
Grass is green, the sky is blue, and my team, Leeds United, finish mid-table.
Another top-notch gimme is whatever Professor Brian Cox gets involved in tends to be pretty good.
Forces of Nature is no different!
It had been on my list for a while and I’m so glad I got round to it.
I loved the TV series he did to accompany the book and actually being able to absorb the fascinating concepts in my own time without having to pause a show makes the reading experience all the more enjoyable!
The basic premise is Professor Cox looks to answer some of the simplest questions related to nature, such as why the Earth is a sphere, in a way which goes beyond GCSE level thinking but not so far as 3rd-year PhD stuff.
The book is split into four distinct chapters: Symmetry, Motion, Elements and Colour. I personally found Motion and Elements the most eye-opening.
Here are just a few of the stand-out moments for me.
- “Be a child. Pay attention to small things. Don’t be led by prejudice. Take nobody’s word for anything. Observe and think. Ask simple questions. Seek simple answers.” Taking a different perspective
- “Nobel Laureate Phillip Anderson wrote, ‘It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry.'” Symmetry: Why is the Earth a sphere?
- “Big things like planets are shaped by the interplay between gravity, trying to squash them into spheres; and electromagnetism, trying to resist the squashing.” Symmetry: Why is the Earth a sphere?
- “An educated person probably knows that we’re all walking around on the surface of a sphere of equatorial circumference of 40,000 km and mass 6 thousand million million million tonnes, spinning around an extravagantly tilted axis once every 24 hours, and that the whole vast spinning thing is barrelling around the Sun at close to 30 kilometres per second in order to make it around the 940-million-kilometre orbit every year. Such a person probably doesn’t find it amazing that we don’t notice this on a day-to-day basis. It’s dizzying.” Motion: Somewhere in spacetime
- “‘The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loud speakers, but the Earth is still going around the Sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.'” Motion: The formation of the Earth and Moon
- “‘Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling along the lifeline of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time.'” Motion: Somewhere in spacetime
- “Irrespective of what happened at the beginning of time, we know there was a period 13.8 billion years ago when the part of the Universe that we can see today, containing over 350 billion large galaxies and with a diameter of over 90 billion light years, was compressed into a region of space smaller than a single atom.” Elements: The moth and the flame
- “Under the assumption that life began on Earth, it must have been the case that the basic chemistry of life existed on our planet before living things emerged, and that sometime and somewhere chemistry became biology. There is no precise definition of what ‘becoming biology’ means, but it is worth emphasising that biology is just a word for (very) complex chemistry. Living things are constructed from the same set of chemical elements as inanimate things, and they obey the same laws of Nature. In this sense we can assert that the Earth is our ancestor and creator, and we would like to know how, where and when the transition from geochemistry to biochemistry occurred.” Elements: The moth and the flame
What Others Are Saying
I really enjoyed this one!
In places, it delved into some really deep philosophical theories regarding time which I wasn’t expecting at all, and I loved the perspective it’s given me regarding human existence.
For example, I find it amazing how Earth is travelling at 30 kilometres a second on its orbit around the sun, and how the Universe we see today was once compressed into a space no bigger than a single atom.
Truly mind-boggling stuff!
Sure, there was quite a lot which flew straight over my head.
And I get it; this can be off-putting.
For me, though, I found this strangely reassuring.
People like Professor Cox have been studying this stuff for decades. If I were to understand every concept and every detail at first glance, I’d definitely be wondering about what they’d left out.
So I’m glad I didn’t understand everything. Besides, it gives me an excuse to come back to this book at a later date!
All in all, a terrific read and one which I highly recommend – particularly if you’re not of a scientific mind like myself but have a general interest in nature and space.