Summary and book reviews of You Are Here by Christopher Potter

You Are Here

A Portable History of the Universe

by Christopher Potter

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

You Are Here is a dazzling exploration of the universe and our relationship to it, as seen through the lens of today's most cutting-edge scientific thinking. Christopher Potter brilliantly parses the meaning of what we call the universe. He tells the story of how something evolved from nothing and how something became everything. What does a material description of everything and nothing look like? What is it that science does when it describes a reality that is made out of something? In between nothing and everything is where we live.

Here, for the first time in a single span, is the life of the universe, from quarks to galaxy superclusters and from slime to Homo sapiens. The universe was once a moment of perfect symmetry and is now 13.7 billion years of history. Clouds of gas were woven into whatever complexity we find in the universe today: the hierarchies of stars or the brains of mammals. Potter writes entertainingly about the history and philosophy of science, and he shows that science advances by continually removing humankind from a position of primacy in the universe, but the universe responds by placing us back there again.

With wisdom and wonder, Potter traverses the cosmos from its conception to its eventual end—while exploring everything in between.

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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. ...

... 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.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (622 words).

Media Reviews

The Guardian - Steven Poole

Curiously, given the literary bent, what the book lacks is the narrative power and lucidity of the big pop expositions by actual scientists (Gribbin, Krauss, Kaku et al); and too often it devolves into mere inventory (lists of big animals or nearby stars).

New Scientist - Dan Falk

For the most part ... Potter is in command of his subject - especially when he guides us through the philosophical underpinnings of science itself. Anyone drawn to "the big questions" will enjoy this latest synthesis.

The New Yorker

Most compellingly, Potter examines the provisional nature of scientific inquiry, in which conjecture can lead to insight and a weakness of a hypothesis can become a strength.

Booklist

Starred Review. Potter confronts the paradox of science as an enterprise that denies Homo sapiens any special status in the universe yet proceeds only because of...reasoning abilities found in no other creatures. A marvelously capacious book that will attract serious readers everywhere.

Kirkus Reviews.

A well-executed, consistently readable layperson's exposition of the state of scientific knowledge. Drawing on everyday experience to put the most esoteric phenomena in perspective, he makes his subject clear without dumbing it down. One of the best short surveys of science and its history in recent years.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This clear and smoothly written look at the mind-boggling history of everything is both informative and provocative.

The London Times - Rod Liddle

Potter's book works because he is not (quite) a physicist, but nor is he merely a layman. He is a publisher with a fairly modest (he suggests) academic background in mathematics and the history of science. And this is the root of the book's brilliance; Potter becomes a link between the bizarre and abstruse world of the quantum physicists and our own rather more confined imaginations.

Reader Reviews

Peter Best

Some good answers to the Big Questions!
As a physicist of old, this book is a revelation as it maneuvers so easily between many technical subjects - in fact it reminds me of Peter Watson's "A Terrible Beauty" - a favourite- in its breadth and fluidity. It is not a "popular ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Brief Biography of Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus was one of the first scientists to remove the Earth (and consequently, humanity) from the center of the universe, countering the theological teachings of his day. As such, his theories are referred to often in You Are Here. He is regarded as one of the central figures of the Scientific Revolution, and is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern astronomy.

Copernicus was born Mikolaj Kopernik on February 19, 1473 in the Polish town of Torun, the youngest of four children. His father was a wealthy copper trader active in local politics (kopernik translates as "one who works with copper"), who died when Copernicus was still young. His maternal uncle, Lucas Watzenrode, ...

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