Brian Greene, the author of several bestselling explorations of cutting-edge physics, turns his attention to the cosmos in “Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe,” and readers will encounter his usual astute observations and analysis.
Greene quotes from philosopher Bertrand Russell who, in a 1948 radio debate with a cleric, based his agnosticism on a scientific law: “the universe has crawled by slow stages to a somewhat pitiful result on this earth and is going to crawl by still more pitiful stages to a condition of universal death…if this is to be taken as evidence of purpose, I can only say that the purpose is one that does not appeal to me.” Russell is referring to the second law of thermodynamics, which states that “everything in the universe has an overwhelming tendency to run down, to degrade, to wither.” Greene explains that this is entropy, a term that is often popularly defined as a gradual slide into disorder. In the Big Bang, a supremely ordered low entropy kernel of energy expanded into the familiar universe, but entropy’s steady increase will lead to a uniformly disordered cold, lifeless emptiness — although not for a long time. The law allows plenty of local, highly organized, low entropy areas — galaxies, stars, civilization — whose existence is more than balanced by wasted energy they produce. Having announced his theme, Greene regularly returns to it in 11 chapters that begin at the Big Bang and proceed with deeply learned, sharp, never-dumbed-down accounts of what scientists know about star formation, planet formation, life’s origins, evolution, consciousness, language, culture and religion. The author concludes his engaging survey with what the future might hold for humans (very long life) and the universe (even longer); beyond a certain entropy, however, there will be no room for us.
An insightful history of everything that simplifies its complex subject as much as possible but no further.
’Code Name Hélène’
Ariel Lawhon’s historical novel “Code Name Hélène” explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.
Lawhon’s carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden” — two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of (her) life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!
A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure — Lawhon’s best book to date.