Excerpt from You Are Here by Christopher Potter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

You Are Here

A Portable History of the Universe

by Christopher Potter

You Are Here
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter One

Orientation

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me.
Blaise Pascal

You are here, it says on the map in the park, the train station and the shopping centre, an arrow, usually red, pointing to some reassuringly definite location. But where is here, exactly? Children know, or think they know. On the flyleaf of a first book, I wrote out, as we all did after our own fashion, my full cosmic address - Christopher Potter, 225 Rushgreen Road, Lymn, Cheshire, England, The United Kingdom, The World, The Solar System, The Galaxy - my childish handwriting getting larger and larger, as if each part of the address I knew to be bigger and more important than the preceding part, until, with a final flourish, that acme of destinations is reached: the universe itself, the place that must locate everything there is.

As children we soon become aware that the universe must be a strange place. I used to keep myself awake at night trying to imagine what lay beyond the edge of the universe. If the universe contains everything there is, then what is it contained in? We now know, scientists tell us, that the visible universe is a region of radiation that evolved and is not contained in anything. But such a description raises too many questions that are more disturbing than the question we had hoped to have had answered in the first place, and so we quickly put the universe back in its box and think about something else instead.

We do not like to think about the universe because we fear the immensity that is everything. The universe reduces us to a nub, making it difficult to escape the idea that size matters. After all, who can deny the universe when there is so much of it? 'Spiritual aspirations threaten to be swallowed up by this senseless bulk into a sort of nightmare of meaninglessness,' wrote the Anglo-German scholar Edward Conze (1904-1979). 'The enormous quantity of matter that we perceive around us, compared with the trembling little flicker of spiritual insight that we perceive within us, seems to tell strongly in favour of a materialistic outlook on life.' We know that we must lose if we are to contest the universe.

Just as terrifying is the idea of nothing at all. A little while ago each of us was nothing, and then was something. No wonder children have nightmares. The something of our existence ought to make the nothingness that preceded life an impossibility, since we also know, as King Lear observes, that 'nothing can come of nothing'. And yet every day in the annihilation and miraculous resurrection of the ego that is going to sleep and waking up, we are reminded of that very nothingness from which each of us emerges.

If there is something - which there appears to be - then where did that something come from? Such thoughts coincide with the first inklings we have of our own mortality. Death and nothingness go hand in hand: twin terrors to put alongside our terror of the infinite; terrors we spend the rest of our lives suppressing into the shape of our adult selves.

Humans are caught in a bind. On the one hand we know that there is something because we are each sure of our own existence; but we also know there is nothing because we fear that that is where we came from and where we are headed. We know intellectually that the nothingness of death is inescapable but do not actually believe it. 'We are all immortal,' the American novelist John Updike reminds us, 'for as long as we live.'

'What happens when I die?' a child soon asks, a question that as adults we also put to one side. Not even a material girl in a material world would be satisfied with an answer that was restricted to descriptions of physical decay, and yet even a material answer to such a question, and indeed to all questions, ill end up at the same place. What is the material of the world and where does it come from? To think about the universe is to ask again the childhood questions we no longer ask: What is everything? And what is nothing?

  • 1
  • 2

The foregoing is excerpted from You Are Here by Christopher Potter. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Certain Age
    A Certain Age
    by Beatriz Williams
    Lovers of high-society gossip, there's a new set of players in town. A good 20 out of 23 of our...
  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...
  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Falling
    by Jane Green

    "Readers who enjoy a love story with heart will adore this tale of homecoming and transformation." - LJ

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    All Is Not Forgotten
    by Wendy Walker

    This is fast-paced psychological suspense/thriller at it's very best.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Fair Fight
by Anna Freeman

A page-turning novel set in the world of 18th century female pugilists.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!