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Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
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Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  4,141 ratings  ·  515 reviews
New York Times Bestseller

“Deft and consuming.” (David Ulin - Los Angeles Times)

“The pleasure of this book is watching the match: the staggeringly inventive human mind slamming its fantastic conjectures over the net, the universe coolly returning every serve.... Holt traffics in wonder, a word whose dual meanings—the absence of answers; the experience of awe—strike me as
Hardcover, 279 pages
Published July 16th 2012 by Liveright Publishing Corporation (first published February 1st 2011)
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Mark Saha I can only comment that Einstein does not recognize such nothingness, nor comment on anything existing outside space-time. Relativity has not only…moreI can only comment that Einstein does not recognize such nothingness, nor comment on anything existing outside space-time. Relativity has not only been empirically confirmed but has many practical uses; e.g., it tells us that the clock in an orbiting GPS satellite will slow down relative to one on earth, and must be adjusted to make GPS work. If not for Einstein, GPS would not work and no man would know why. (less)

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Jessica Q. Rabbit, singer, model, movie star and high-flying academic, talks candidly to The Toon Town Times about Why Does the World Exist?

Jessica 1

TTT: Jessica, great to meet and thank you for making space in your busy schedule.

JR: The pleasure's all mine.

TTT: Okay, now I know you have another meeting in half an hour, so let's cut to the chase. What's up with Jim Holt's new book? Why aren't you in it?

JR: Why should I be?

TTT: Ah, come on. Sartre... Proust... cosmology... modal logic... it's Jessica all
Daniel Bastian
“The lower a man is in an intellectual respect, the less puzzling and mysterious existence itself is to him.” —Arthur Schopenhauer

Jim Holt has made a career out of tracking philosophy’s Moby Dick, or more appropriately, the explanatory “superturtle”: the question of why there is something rather than nothing. The secret to existence. The riddle of Being.

It’s a question that confronted Plato, haunted Heidegger, religion claims to have answered long ago, and, so declare Lawrence Krauss and Stephen
This supremely unimportant book raises three deep and troubling questions.
The first is: Why in blazes did I buy it? By way of apology more than explanation I did struggle with Heidigger in graduate school back in 1970 and thought this might be a good way to revive my earlier befuddlement. Befuddlement revived? Check. Good way? Not so much. Here’s a good sample: Expanding upon his conversation with Robert Nozick (Who I am sure is a very smart fellow.), Holt writes, “Let’s call this deepest-of-a
I haven't argued with a book as much as this one.....ever. I was furious, outraged, bombastic. What?! How can people get away with such partial and idiotic arguments, and how can anyone take them seriously. The book irritated me, to say the least, and all I wanted to do was sit across a table from Holt and from everyone he interviewed (except David Deutsch and Steven Weinberg) and ask them if they were really kidding.

It's an unanswerable question, why there is something rather than nothing, and
Peter Mcloughlin
This book is among one of my twenty most favorite books. It goes into a subject that is the deepest of all. Why is there something rather than nothing. In pursuit of that question the author tracks down physicists and philosophers in search for an answer to this mystery. Whether it be mathematical Platonism, the Multiverse, God, or just a brute fact the author explores a wide array of answers by some of the smartest people around. The author at the end of his journey does not have a satisfactor ...more
An exuberant romp of a book. Holt ponders that most enduring & impossible of questions: why is there something rather than nothing. All well & good & I enjoyed the ride, even though one should know from the outset that nothing will be decided. The author won't even get to the bottom of what exactly "nothing" IS. But that's to be expected & doesn't diminish the pleasure of the quest. Midway through the book, however, I began to wonder why all the philosophers, scientists or simply ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Even with some limitations, this was a very stimulating book to read. Inconclusive as any such book must be, so don't pick it up expecting one definitive version of an answer.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. It's a bit self-indulgent, with lots of little segues where Holt sits around drinkin' and thinkin' at the same Paris cafe where Sartre wrote Being and Nothinginess or soaking in a bathtub in the Athenaeum club, but they add a few much-needed downbeats to what might have been a somewhat gru
Cheryl Kennedy
"I read Hegel's words while sitting at a table at the Cafe de Flore in Paris. That may seem odd, not to say pretentious, choice of reading material for an idle afternoon in a fashionable Left Bank cafe. But I am, after all, in a place that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir made their daily headquarters some decades ago. In the cold winter of German occupied Paris, Sartre and de Beauvoir showed up first thing in the morning and installed themselves at the warmest table, next to the stove pi ...more
Craig Werner
This book came to me via the very positive New York Times Book Review review, and it made the Times list of best books of the year. I wish I'd read Freeman Dyson's review in the New York Review of Books first and saved my time.

Certianlyk the organizing question--why does the universe exist?--is interesting. Or at least I thought it was until I read the book. After reading it, I'm convinced that almost everyone who addresses it is deeply mired in circular thinking of the sort where the argument i
Holt's book is very thought provoking and very clearly written with an occasional touch of humor. That said, though I left with a pleasant reading experience, a deeper understanding of the issues, and lots to ponder, I didn't leave with the answer (but then one shouldn't expect to, given the complexity of the question).

I have read other books on related topics, and Holt's book is the most enlightening, the clearest, and the most informative by far. Sentences are carefully presented; ideas flow l
Rob Adey
I'm used by now to this kind of book not actually providing a satisfactory answer to the question posited, but this one is really infuriating.

Holt speaks to an admirably wide range of thinkers about this ultimate question, but doesn't provide enough detail on their theories for us to get much of a handle on them. Given that the range is so wide it wouldn't be surprising if some of the actual interviewees were unfamiliar with some of the other ideas in the book, it's a bit unfair for Holt to ass
Gabriel C.
This book was just brutally bad.

1. Cornball bullshit/Disingenuous pseudo-sophistry. The very best parts of this book aspire to sophistry, which is supposed to have some sort of plausibility. Pseudo-sophistry is supposed to superficially sound like sophistry but have zero plausibility. This shit started with the first words of the text but there were outbreaks like sores all over the place. Disgusting. No sense of propriety. Not funny.

2. The forced real-life interludes. Be it the woman he passes
John Alt
Why does this book review exist? Because its author poured himself a cup of coffee the other morning and sat down in front of the computer to write it. Why did he write it? Because he wanted to, silly. Where did the book come from? Its author wrote it. This is becoming tedious.

Okay, how about this?

Where did the universe come from? One interpretation of the Big Bang theory is that it emerged from nothing--in the final analysis, then, it, time, space, cups of coffee, blogs, book reviews, books, yo
Tim Pendry
This review of contemporary thinking on the question of existence represents the best of North American intellectual journalism where the writer tries to represent the intelligent 'ordinary joe' in his search for knowledge.

Of course, it has its irritations. The American literary style is almost defined by its narcissism - the fact that Jim Holt is sitting in the cafe that was patronised (or matronised) by Sartre and De Beauvoir is of very little interest.

We want to get to the meat but that's ju
I found the discussion in this book on why there is something rather than nothing utterly charming but totally befuddling. There was not a single page where I thought to myself ah yes that obviously makes sense, instead each page elicited a headache.

In face of my own profound inability to understand any of this book it is of course equally impossible for me to give any sense of whether this book is any good or not. Lack of understanding, leads one to either describe the book as absolute nonsense
Kyle Muntz
A nice, well written survey of contemporary metaphysics/science, mostly trying to explain "why there is something rather than nothing". It's more engaging than most surveys, with some nice cameos by prominent scientists/philosophers, and less shallow than most things aimed at a general audience. Because of my background, the philosophy felt a little basic, but a lot of the physics were engaging and new, and seeing them together was a nice treat. Like most metaphysics surveys, it spent a while gr ...more
I took a college philosophy class more than two decades ago. it was taught by a complete asshole whose only pleasure was ridiculing and tormenting others. Although not related to my major I wanted an A in that class more than anything. True to the story I missed it by like .1 of a point. That was my introduction to the mystery of existence. I was hooked as I'm sure most of you reading a review of this book would have been.

Holt relates his introduction as a high schooler reading Satre's Being and
James Murphy
Why is there something rather than nothing? It's a classical philosophical question. As Jim Holt tells it, Martin Amis once remarked in an interview that we're about 5 Einsteins away from answering the question of why things exist and how the universe popped into being. Taking the thought to heart, he gave himself the task of talking to a succession of experts--particle physicists, theologians, philosophers, cosmologists, mystics, and a great writer, heavy thinkers all--who he hoped would prove ...more
Sam Schulman
This is a far more personal and self-disclosing book than I expected, and skates very far, I feared at first, in the direction of one of those concocted "How the Irish Jews Saved The Parthenon, Invented Caller ID, and Inspired Emily Dickinson" sort of books. But Jim Holt's slyly amiable and vulnerable persona is armed with a very serious purpose, and rather than give us potted versions of the views of the various players in this arena, he works out his own understanding, often in conversation wi ...more
I don't know why I get my hopes up over these kind of books. Isn't it obvious that the question can't be answered by any means?

Never mind. Lots of interesting people get interviewed (Steven Weinberg!), and some good dead people also get to put a word in (Bertrand Russell)

I think I'll interrupt this premature review to quote Steven Weinberg a little. Before reading 'Why does the world exist..' I knew him only as one of the guys responsible for electroweak theory and the standard model of physics.
In Why Does the World Exist?, Jim Holt addresses the perennial question: why is there something rather than nothing?

Holt interviews a number of different thinkers: philosophers, scientists, and theologians, engaging with them and their ideas on why being (something) has triumphed over nothing. Holt also offers his own personal ruminations on the ideas of those whom he interviews and, in the end, provides his own answer to the question of why something exists rather than nothing.

Holt's conversati
An intriguing and hopeless search for the meaning of existence. William James called the question of existence "the darkest in all philosohpy." Sadly, the book sheds no light on the question. Jim Holt is an excellent writer who can explain philosophical, scientific and existential themes with skill. He conducts interviews with leading scientists and philosophers who have explored the mysteries of existence using the tools of mathematics, quantum mechanics, platonic philosophy, and philosophical ...more
Holt took an interesting approach with this book, combining a serious, if somewhat light-hearted, philosophical inquiry into a profound metaphysical question with a non-fiction style situated between autobiography and travelogue.

The question is "why is there something rather than nothing?" Holt kicks off with an overview of history behind this mystery, which dates back to at least the Greeks, ran through Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel (among others), and has more recently found ex
One of the worst books I have tackled in recent years. Holt would have to be a brilliant journalist because he is impressively producing 2-page-articles one after another, all equally great. Sadly, this does not add up to a book. Or even a chapter. Only to a droning repetition of shallow variations on themes beyond the scope and capacity of the writer.

Of course, interesting books on philosophy can be written by non-philosophers. But where other writers manage to capitalise on their stance as non
Sam Reaves
Years ago, I was sitting on my back porch watching a thunderstorm and ruminating on life and other important matters, perhaps aided by a refreshing cocktail or two, when it suddenly struck me that the greatest mystery of all was why there was something instead of nothing. Where did all this come from? What could possibly explain it? Has it always been here? If not, how could it pop up out of nothing? Etc.
I was not, it turned out, the first person to be struck by this. Over the succeeding thirty
Andrea Mullarkey
Oh, the tedium! I was in this genuinely interesting conversation about the nature and purpose of being with a woman I don't know very well but who I wouldn't mind knowing better. When we finally broke off talking she recommended this book. She had read it and described it in such a way that I somehow thought reading it would be like mulling these ideas over with her. But conflating the two was a mistake. In this book Jim Holt is on a quest to understand the question specifically of why there is ...more
Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist? is probing, unrelentingly smart and, at times, deeply moving. In the process of guiding his reader through his philosophical-theological-scientific meditation on the origins of the universe, Holt's book reveals itself to be as concerned with the problem of subjectivity as cosmogenesis. While the two issues may seem to be diametrically opposed in scale ("Why do I exist?" versus "Why does the world exist?"), Why Does the World Exist? convinces you that these qu ...more
The book that dares ask the question: Why is there something, rather than nothing, and proceeds to answer in as many ways possible - none of them conclusive. I must admit I saw it coming, and I must also admit there was quite a bit of this book I couldn't follow.

About once a year I dive into cosmology thinking I'm going to eventually be enlightened through accretion. If I read about it enough, one of these days I'm going to get it. Hasn't happened yet, but I'm happy to say that I enjoyed this s
Actually more like 4.5. Engaging and thoughtful and deftly told (probably all these adjectives are used in the blurbs, but in this case they're accurate). Anyhow, it's fascinating stuff. Holt reminds us philosophy can be fun, too. Three cheers for deep thought and wild conjecture!
OK book, some good parts and a lot or tedium & mental masturbation over things that should be obvious (i.e. "Nothing" is a abstract human construct). I enjoyed some of the interviews and it is well written but I was expecting more.
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The Aspiring Poly...: Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story 1 30 Nov 03, 2012 03:01PM  
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Jim Holt is a longtime contributor to the New Yorker -- where he has written on string theory, time, infinity, numbers, truth, and bullshit, among other subjects -- and the author of Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. He is also a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the London Review of Books. He lives in Greenwich Village.
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“In 1921, a New York rabbi asked Einstein if he believed in God. "I believe in Spinoza's God," he answered, "who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” 17 likes
“Having just enough life to enjoy being dead.” 13 likes
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