Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew is a book about nesting ospreys, multiple universes, atheism, spiritualism, and the arrow of time. He takes the reader back and forth between ordinary occurrences-old shoes and entropy, sailing far out at sea and the infinite expanse of space. He looks toward the universe and captures aspects of it in a series of beautifully written essays, each offering a glimpse at the whole from a different perspective: here time, there symmetry, not least God. It is a meditation by a remarkable humanist-physicist, a book worth reading by anyone entranced by big ideas grounded in the physical world.
Questions like why our world exists and what nothing is have occupied minds great and ordinary since the dawn of humanity, and yet for all our scientific progress, they continue to do so, yielding only hypotheses rather than concrete answers. But there is something immutably heartening in the difference between the primitive hypotheses of myth, folklore and religion, which handed off such mysteries to various deities and the occasional white-bearded man, and the increasingly educated guesses of modern science. In the title essay of his excellent The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew which also gives us beautiful meditations on science and spirituality, Alan Lightman points to fine-tuning — the notion that the basic forces propelling our universe appear to be fine-tuned in such a way as to make the existence of life possible — as a centerpiece of how modern scientists have attempted to answer these age-old questions.