New Release Books by Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman is the author of Ada and the Galaxies (2022), Probable Impossibilities (2021), Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine (2019), In Praise of Wasting Time (2018) and other 45 books.

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Probable Impossibilities

release date: Feb 09, 2021
Probable Impossibilities
The acclaimed author of Einstein’s Dreams tackles "big questions like the origin of the universe and the nature of consciousness ... in an entertaining and easily digestible way” (Wall Street Journal) with a collection of meditative essays on the possibilities—and impossibilities—of nothingness and infinity, and how our place in the cosmos falls somewhere in between. Can space be divided into smaller and smaller units, ad infinitum? Does space extend to larger and larger regions, on and on to infinity? Is consciousness reducible to the material brain and its neurons? What was the origin of life, and can biologists create life from scratch in the lab? Physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, whom The Washington Post has called “the poet laureate of science writers,” explores these questions and more—from the anatomy of a smile to the capriciousness of memory to the specialness of life in the universe to what came before the Big Bang. Probable Impossibilities is a deeply engaged consideration of what we know of the universe, of life and the mind, and of things vastly larger and smaller than ourselves.

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

release date: Feb 19, 2019
Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine
An inspired, lyrical meditation on religion and science that explores the tension between our yearning for permanence and certainty, and the modern scientific discoveries that demonstrate the impermanent and uncertain nature of the world. As a physicist, Alan Lightman has always held a scientific view of the world. As a teenager experimenting in his own laboratory, he was impressed by the logic and materiality of a universe governed by a small number of disembodied forces and laws that decree all things in the world are material and impermanent. But one summer evening, while looking at the stars from a small boat at sea, Lightman was overcome by the overwhelming sensation that he was merging with something larger than himself--a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute and immaterial. Lightman's exploration of these seemingly contradictory impulses, he draws on sources ranging from Saint Augustine's conception of absolute truth to Einstein's theory of relativity, from the unity of the once-indivisible atom to the multiplicity of subatomic particles and the recent notion of multiple universes. What he gives us is a profound inquiry into the human desire for truth and meaning, and a journey along the different paths of religion and science that become part of that quest.

In Praise of Wasting Time

release date: May 15, 2018
In Praise of Wasting Time
In this timely and essential book that offers a fresh take on the qualms of modern day life, Professor Alan Lightman investigates the creativity born from allowing our minds to freely roam, without attempting to accomplish anything and without any assigned tasks. We are all worried about wasting time. Especially in the West, we have created a frenzied lifestyle in which the twenty-­four hours of each day are carved up, dissected, and reduced down to ten minute units of efficiency. We take our iPhones and laptops with us on vacation. We check email at restaurants or our brokerage accounts while walking in the park. When the school day ends, our children are overloaded with “extras.” Our university curricula are so crammed our young people don’t have time to reflect on the material they are supposed to be learning. Yet in the face of our time-driven existence, a great deal of evidence suggests there is great value in “wasting time,” of letting the mind lie fallow for some periods, of letting minutes and even hours go by without scheduled activities or intended tasks. Gustav Mahler routinely took three or four-­hour walks after lunch, stopping to jot down ideas in his notebook. Carl Jung did his most creative thinking and writing when he visited his country house. In his 1949 autobiography, Albert Einstein described how his thinking involved letting his mind roam over many possibilities and making connections between concepts that were previously unconnected. With In Praise of Wasting Time, Professor Alan Lightman documents the rush and heave of the modern world, suggests the technological and cultural origins of our time-­driven lives, and examines the many values of “wasting time”—for replenishing the mind, for creative thought, and for finding and solidifying the inner self. Break free from the idea that we must not waste a single second, and discover how sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing at all.

Screening Room

release date: Feb 23, 2016
Screening Room
A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR Alan Lightman's grandfather M.A. was the family's undisputed patriarch. It was his movie theater empire that catapulted the Lightmans, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant family, to prominence in the South; his triumphs that would both galvanize and paralyze his descendants. In this evocative personal history, the author chronicles his return to Memphis and the stifling home he had been so eager to flee forty years earlier. As aging uncles and aunts retell old stories, Alan finds himself reconsidering long-held beliefs about his larger-than-life grandfather and his quiet, inscrutable father. The result is an unforgettable family saga set against the pulsing backdrop of Memphis--its country clubs and juke joints, its rhythm and blues, its segregated movie theaters, its barbecue and pecan pie--including encounters with Elvis, Martin Luther King Jr., and E. H. "Boss" Crump. Both intensely personal and quintessentially American, Screening Room finely explores the tricks of light that can make--and unmake--a man and his myth. (With black-and-white illustrations throughout.)

Three Flames

release date: Sep 15, 2020
Three Flames
“Lightman’s best book since Einstein’s Dreams . . . a piercing story of social dissolution in damaged Cambodia . . . an important story of global women’s rights.” —Annie Proulx The stories of one Cambodian family are intricately braided together in Alan Lightman’s first work of fiction in seven years. Three Flames portrays the struggles of a Cambodian farming family against the extreme patriarchal attitudes of their society and a cruel and dictatorial father, set in a rural community that is slowly being exposed to the modern world and its values. Ryna is a mother fighting against memories of her father’s death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and her powerful desire for revenge. Daughter Nita is married off at sixteen to a wandering husband, while her sister Thida is sent to the city to work in the factories to settle their father’s gambling debt. Kamal, the only son, dreams of marrying the most beautiful girl in the village and escaping the life of a farmer. Yet it will be up to Sreypov, the youngest, to bravely challenge her father and strive for a better future. Three Flames is a vivid story of one family's yearning for freedom and of a young girl's courage to face down tradition. “Lyrical and poignant, Three Flames weaves the stories of three generations of a poor, Cambodian farming family as they struggle to survive and hold on to their humanity . . . Beautifully written and told with great compassion, Alan Lightman's novel gives readers a family that is rich in stories, history, and heart, proving in the end that love shines even in the midst of great darkness.” —Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father

The Accidental Universe

release date: Jan 14, 2014
The Accidental Universe
In The Accidental Universe, physicist and novelist Alan Lightman explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind. Here, in a collection of exhilarating essays, Lightman shows us our own universe from a series of fascinating and diverse perspectives. He takes on the difficult dialogue between science and religion; the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature; the possibility that our universe is simply an accident; the manner in which modern technology has divorced us from enjoying a direct experience of the world; and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws alone. With his customary passion, precision, lyricism and imagination, in The Accidental Universe Alan Lightman leaves us with the suggestion - heady and humbling - that what we see and understand of the world and ourselves is only a tiny piece of the extraordinary, perhaps unfathomable whole. Praise for Alan Lightman: '...a gem of a novel that is strange witty erudite and alive with Lightman's playful genius.' Junot Diaz. 'It would not seem possible for Alan Lightman to match his earlier tour de force, Einstein's Dreams, but in Mr g he has done so - with wit, imagination, and transcendent beauty.' Anita Desai.

Mr G

release date: Oct 30, 2012
Mr G
"Bored with his existence in the shimmering Void with his bickering Uncle Deva and Aunt Penelope, Mr g wakes up from a nap one day and decides to create the universe only to be challenged by intellectual rival Belhor."--Novelist.

Song of Two Worlds

release date: Feb 10, 2017
Song of Two Worlds
From the author of the international bestseller Einstein's Dreams comes an illustrated verse-narrative a profound scientific, philosophical, and spiritual adventure."

GOOD BENITO

release date: Mar 23, 2011
GOOD BENITO
From the author of the best-selling Einstein’s Dreams comes a wonderfully original, deeply moving, and wryly funny novel about the clash between the absolutes of science and the vagaries of human experience. Bennett always knew he would live a life of science. From the homemade rockets and experiments of his childhood to the complex equations he solved as a professor of physics, his vision has transformed the uncertainty and frailty of life into an order and beauty that he inhabits with deep satisfaction. But his vision betrays him, revealing a profound incompleteness, an inadequacy to confront the contradictions his life: the black maid who raises him and loves him but cannot welcome him into her own house, the mentally absent father who wishes he’d died a hero in World War II, the self-destructive wife who invites Bennett’s cruelty. As Bennett struggles between reason and intuition, he slowly learns to allow the imperfections of daily life—the chaos he has worked so hard to control—to broaden his understanding of the world and his place in it. Written with lyrical sparseness, hilarity mixed with sadness, the story of Bennett’s struggle becomes both a beautifully rendered portrait of the emotional life of a scientist and a resonant tale of the disillusionment that haunts us all.

Dance for Two

release date: Mar 09, 2011
Dance for Two
For the last twenty years, Alan Lightman has been writing essays that display his genius for bringing literary and scientific concerns into harmony. Dance for Two gathers the best of Lightman's work. Here are pieces that touch on both the ethereal and the corporeal; the dependence of a ballerina on the laws of physics, the choice of every scientist makes between tinkering and theorizing, the unscientific nature of discovery, the impulse behind an unprompted smile. Dance for Two is an intimate and fascinating look into the creative compulsions shared by the artist and the scientist.

Einstein's Dreams

release date: Mar 02, 2011
Einstein's Dreams
A modern classic, Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, about time, relativity and physics. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar. Now translated into thirty languages, Einstein’s Dreams has inspired playwrights, dancers, musicians, and painters all over the world. In poetic vignettes, it explores the connections between science and art, the process of creativity, and ultimately the fragility of human existence.

The Discoveries

release date: Oct 22, 2010
The Discoveries
An extraordinarily accessible, illuminating chronicle of the great moments of scientific discovery in the 20th century, and an exploration into the minds of the remarkable men and women behind them. We know and read the literary masterpieces; how many of us have had the opportunity not only to read but understand the masterpieces of science that describe the very moment of discovery? The last century has seen an explosion of creativity and insight that led to breakthroughs in every field of science: from the theory of relativity to the first quantum model of the atom to the mapping of the structure of DNA, these discoveries profoundly changed how we understand the world and our place in it. Alan Lightman tells the stories of two dozen breakthroughs made by such brilliant scientists as Einstein, Bohr, McClintock and Pauling, among others, drawing on his unique background as a scientist and novelist to reveal the process of scientific discovery at its greatest. He outlines the intellectual and emotional landscape of each discovery, portrays the personalities and human drama of the scientists involved, and explains the significance and impact of the work. Finally, he gives an unprecedented and exhilarating guided tour through each of the original papers.

Ghost

release date: Jan 01, 2008
Ghost
Three months after being unexpectedly fired from his banking job, David takes a temporary position at a local mortuary, where he experiences an inexplicable encounter with the unknown that transforms his relationships with everyone around him, forces him to confront the shifting nature of reality, and explores the boundary between the physical world and the spiritual one. Reprint. 20,000 first printing.

Origins

release date: Oct 01, 2013
Origins
Origins reveals the human being within the scientist in a study of the philosophical, personal, and social factors that enter into the scientific process. Twenty-seven active cosmologists--including Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, Steven Weinberg, Vera Rubin, Allan Sandage, Margaret Geller, and Alan Guth--talk candidly about their childhoods and early influences, their motivations, prejudices, and worldviews. The book's lucid introduction traces the explosion of new ideas that has recently shaken cosmological thinking. Origins explores not just the origin of the universe but also the origins of scientific thought.

Reunion

release date: Dec 18, 2007
Reunion
Charles, a once-promising poet, is a professor at a minor liberal arts college, admiring of passion but without passion himself. Now living a desperately comfortable existence, he decides to return to his thirtieth college reunion. While there, he relives an intense love affair he had with a beautiful ballerina that forever changed his life. At times shocked, admiring, and furious with his younger self, Charles remembers contradictory versions of events, until reality and identity dissolve into a haze of illusion. Reunion explores the pain of self-examination, the clay-like nature of memory, and the fatal power of first love.

A Sense of the Mysterious

release date: Jan 01, 2006
A Sense of the Mysterious
Presents a collection of essays exploring the human dimensions of science, furnishing portraits of seminal scientists Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, and Vera Rubin, as well as reflections on science and art, imagination and metaphor in science, and the social and spiritual implications of technology.

The Best American Science Writing 2005

release date: Sep 06, 2005
The Best American Science Writing 2005
Together these twenty-seven articles on a wide range of today's most current topics in science, from Oliver Sacks, James Gleick, Atul Gawande, and Natalie Angier, among others, represent the full spectrum of scientific writing, proving once again that "good science writing is evidently plentiful" (Scientific American).

The Future of Spacetime

release date: Jan 01, 2003
The Future of Spacetime
Presents essays that explore the deepest mysteries of the universe, including black holes, gravity holes, and time travel, by physicists Stephen Hawking, Kip S. Thorne, Igor Novikov, Timothy Ferris, and Alan Lightman.
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