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I discovered ‘Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand‘ by Marcus Chown while browsing at the bookshop. The title made me smile, because it was an ode to the great William Blake’s legendary lines :

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”

How can we resist a book after that? 🙂

Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand‘ is a collection of science essays. There are fifty essays in the book. Most of them are two or three pages long. Marcus Chown explains in his foreword that across the years he has mentioned some amazing scientific facts in his talks and he wanted to pick some of them and write about them, explaining them in more detail. In the essays in the book, Chown covers mostly physics – things like astronomy, solar system, relativity, quantum mechanics, big bang theory, string theory, black holes. There are some essays on other aspects of science too – like biology, genetics, evolution, computers. The facts that Chown mentions are amazing. For example,

  • 97.5% of what is there in the universe is unknown because it comprises dark matter and dark energy and whatever science we know is based on our understanding of the other 2.5%
  • if we squeeze out the empty space in all the atoms in our bodies the whole human race can be squeezed into a sugar cube
  • how half of the cells which are there in our bodies are not human (you should read that essay to find out why – it is fascinating)
  • how there might have been a planet which stalked the earth
  • how the body which generates the most heat in our solar system is not the sun
  • how there is a liquid that never freezes

Though the book is a collection of essays, some of the essays can be read together as an introduction to physics. Chown’s prose is engaging and conversational and is filled with humour – in many places, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I loved ‘Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand‘. The book is a page-turner and wonderful to read. Marcus Chown takes some of the difficult topics in science and makes them accessible to the general reader in his engaging prose filled with a wonderful sense of humour. In the pantheon of science writers, I will put Marcus Chown alongwith Christophe Galfard (‘The Universe in Your Hand‘) and Bill Bryson (‘A Short History of Nearly Everything‘) and George Gamov (‘One, Two, Three… Infinity‘) as having written the most accessible books. If you like reading on science, you will love this book. I discovered that Marcus Chown has written a book called ‘The Ascent of Gravity‘ which has won awards. I want to read that too.

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