BookBrowse Reviews You Are Here by Christopher Potter

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 by Christopher Potter X
You Are Here by Christopher Potter
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book



A whirlwind tour through the life of the universe, from quarks to galaxy superclusters, from slime to Homo sapiens

You Are Here is simply an amazing book. Christopher Potter takes his readers on a whirlwind tour that races from the vastness of the universe to the subatomic particles that make up all of creation, touching on scientific theory, history, and even evolution along the way. It is a fascinating journey that can leave one's head spinning. There is a lot of information packed into this slim volume.

Potter uses the clever technique of allowing exponentials of ten to enhance his readers' grasp of the immense (or infinitesimally small) distances and sizes about which he's writing. He lists, for example, items that are between 1 and 10 metres in length (humans, giraffes). Once the reader easily comprehends that distance, he progresses to items 10 to 100 metres long (pythons, some dinosaurs), and so on until he reaches distances of light years. This makes his subjects more approachable, providing a better sense of scale than if he had merely spouted facts at the reader. The information is peppered with remarkable observations that frequently cause the reader to stop mid-page in wonder.

One of the themes recurring throughout You Are Here is Potter's claim that scientists have been trying to prove humanity isn't "special" since Copernicus placed the Sun at the center of the universe, that our planet isn't unique. Yet, as scientists uncover more information about the universe, our world paradoxically becomes more remarkable. Potter points out that although there are many "Goldilocks planets" (just the right distance from their sun), the Earth and its solar system have other features that aren't present elsewhere that were essential to the development of life here.

Even the amount of uranium in the earth seems to be perfectly balanced for life. Too little and the earth would have cooled too quickly. It would have become something inert. Too much and the radioactivity levels would again have made this sort of life impossible. The level that we do have suggests that the sun is made of material from a third round of star making, which again reminds that not only are the conditions of the solar system finely balanced for our life, but the conditions of the universe are finely balanced too.

Potter's cosmology allows for the coexistence of science and faith. Early in the narrative he quotes such scientific luminaries as Einstein and Hawking regarding the possible existence of God. He includes a quote from American astronomer Robert Jastrow on the last page of You Are Here: "…The scientist who has climbed the highest peak may find 'as he pulls himself over the final rock, [that] he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.'" While some purists may object to the insertion of spirituality in a popular science book, its inclusion is not intrusive.

At times Potter's writing can be a bit dry. He tends to drift into unnecessary recitation of data that does little to enhance the reader's understanding of a subject. In addition, the book's publicists do it a disservice in proclaiming its accessibility. Personally, I did not find this an easy read. The central sections which deal with quantum mechanics, string theory, and antimatter were particularly challenging. The reader is advised to peruse an excerpt before picking up a copy - You Are Here will not be everyone's cup of tea, and it's not a book that can be easily read in an environment full of distractions. Regardless of its difficulty, however, I did find the information Potter presented to be fascinating, and I was never tempted to abandon the book. Readers with a background in science in particular are likely to find much to enjoy here.

Interesting Link
An interview with the author at The Guardian.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the February 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
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!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Overstory
    The Overstory
    by Richard Powers
    Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, ...
  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

    A riveting story of survival, and the power of stories to save us.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & 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.