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Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,394 ratings  ·  167 reviews
“Science has a battle for hearts and minds on its hands….How good it feels to have Lisa Randall’s unusual blend of top flight science, clarity, and charm on our side.”
—Richard Dawkins

“Dazzling ideas….Read this book today to understand the science of tomorrow.”
—Steven Pinker

The bestselling author of Warped Passages, one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the
Hardcover, 442 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Ecco (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  2,394 ratings  ·  167 reviews

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Start your review of Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, science, american
“Try to remember that artists in these catastrophic times, along with the serious scientists, are the only salvation for us, if there is to be any.”
― William H. Gass


“Science certainly is not the static statement of universal laws we all hear about in elementary school. Nor is it a set of arbitrary rules. Science is an evolving body of knowledge. Many of the ideas we are currently investigating will prove to be wrong or incomplete. Scientific descriptions certainly change as we cross the boundar
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to David by: Gendou
Shelves: science, physics
Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist at Harvard University. She is well known for her research in high-energy physics. You can view a video of Jon Stewart interviewing Randall on The Daily Show. She is a very articulate speaker, and her writing is crystal clear.

The book is divided into five parts. The first part explores the philosophy of science, and gets into some aspects of the science-vs.-religion debate. Randall notes that some people turn to religion for answers that science cannot yet
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
I found the writing style very off-putting with its chit-chatty name-dropping: I have a third cousin who knows an NBA player named Noah who is tall, and I will use that to talk about scale for the fiftieth time, because tallness is a good example of what scale is not about. ?????????????? If the idea is that this will entice someone about to read People or check a gossip website to instead learn about science, then that's a good thing. Beyond that, I don't know who this book is for, but it's not ...more
Kara Babcock
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
I love physics. I love that we know so much about physics, and that we still have so much left to learn! I love reading about how far we have come from Ptolemaic ideas of geocentricity to mapping the cosmic microwave background radiation itself. And don’t get me started about the Large Hadron Collider: 7 TeV? Really? Up to 14 TeV in the next few years? Various atrocious self-help books claim they’ll help you unlock “the secrets of the universe”. The scientists and engineers at CERN are quite lit ...more
Todd Martin
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
I’m not sure how this book came about, but it’s the kind of mish-mash that suggests the work of a committee. First, there’s the title Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, which bears no resemblance to the content of the book. Then, there’s the subject matter itself. The book begins with an overly involved discussion of scale, and how scientists select the scale of their observations depending on the type of phenomenon they a ...more
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
What I don’t know about particle physics amounts to an enormous trove of data. Before reading this book, I had no idea just how much I didn’t know. Now, however, I have a much better idea about what the parameters of what I don’t know might be. I can’t visualize them, but through the process of examining what I do know, the conspicuous absences in the shadows of my knowledge subtly hint at vast deserts of unknowable terrain. Fluctuations of confusion, blackness, and chaos are sometimes the only ...more
Oct 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: in-abeyance
I will admit defeat. As much as I love popular physics books I just cannot bear to finish this one. The author is obviously brilliant, knows her field well, and has an infectious enthusiasm for science. Unfortunately, she seems to have fallen into the trap that some brilliant people do: she assumes her intelligence and acumen in the field of physics means that her insights outside of that field are similarly brilliant. Alas, this is not so. Repeatedly, she discusses the financial world and does ...more
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
By Lisa Randall

Linda Randall is a scientist specialised in particle physics.
She is also an excellent author who is trying to open up a generally closed door to the broader public.

Written in the first person, the author engagingly and wittingly offers the reader a conversation about the history of science and the road to today's knowledge.

The first chapter about science from the 17th century to today is a compelling appeal to read history from Copernic to Galileo, to De
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Eminent theoretical physicist Lisa Randall regards her new book "Knocking on Heaven's Door" as a "prequel" to her earlier "Warped Passages". But it is much more than that, as a clearly written statement by a distinguished scientist explaining how science works to an interested, if substantially scientific illiterate, public. While there are other books, such as those written by her high school and college classmate, physicist Brian Greene, which emphasize the state-of-the-art thinking in theoret ...more
Oct 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: discarded
Once I had a guitar. I worked really, really hard on learning how to play, but never got the hang of it. I put it away. Ten years later I took it out of the closet, thinking to myself, I've been listening to a lot of music, and it's been ten years, I should be much better at this. That's right, I wasn't.

I'm interested in cosmology and physics in much the same way I'm interested in Buddhism, and a bit more than I was actually interested in the guitar. Let's take Buddhism first. I've read lots of
Sep 23, 2016 rated it liked it
The first 2/3 of this book was a 3 star. Randall was all over the place with analogies and subject matter. It was hard to keep track of the points she was trying to make and for my desires it was a bit too light on the physics I was looking for. The last 1/3 completely made up for it. Good material on sub-atomic particles, the LHC, expansion of the universe, dark matter and a bit of string theory. Mostly over my head but I did feel my hair move in the breeze.

3.5 stars rounded down because too m
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This "prequel" to Randall's other book, Warped Passages, is quite good.
Her writing style is (thankfully) much improved.
She talks a lot about scale and model dependent realism.

She tactfully tackles the topic of religion vs. science.
Her thesis is that these activities involve incompatible brain processes.
It's a neat insight, but she avoids stomping on religion's plethora of poor predictions.

My wife and I played a drinking game where we took a shot every time the book uses the word "phenomena".
We g
Matt Heavner
Dec 09, 2011 rated it liked it
This was quite a mish-mash of topics and quality. I really enjoyed some of the super-symmetry/particle physics discussion. The LHC motivation/justification seemed to be the main topic of this book, however, my impression was that this really should have been broken up into three or four separate books. There was some good physics and LHC background motivation. There was a totally disconnected chapter on the financial crises and climate change. There was a good proportion of this book on the phil ...more
Jonas Adler
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
I have to admit that I'm really not sure who this book is for. It is written very simply overall which makes me assume it is for the general public. However, the author includes complicated scientific details without explaining them thoroughly. I have a BS in physics and I know enough to understand what she describes IF she gave enough information. I was also annoyed by her incessant name dropping and how much she talked about her accomplishments. In general I have no problem with an author talk ...more
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone interested in reality of nature or how our universe works
Lisa Randall is one of my all time favorite scientists and this book has become on of my favorite books. I noticed that of individuals who gave this book low ratings, the following critiques were often included in their reviews:

1) Randall does not write for the layperson/is too technical
2) This book seems a mashup hodgepodge of unrelated topics
3) Nothing new here- just cut and paste of her other books

To the first critique, while I agree that Randall has a more formal style (to me something neces
Mar 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Randall combines a decent overview of physics and CERN with a good account of scientific thinking (scale, effective theory, probability, etc.).
Nathan Kibler
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I don't give many books five stars before I read them in their entirety, but I am so impressed with Lisa Randall and her philosophical arguments in the first part of this very timely book. Namely she tackles the issue of religious thinking vs. scientific thinking head on.

While she is clearly prejudiced in favor of the latter, being an honored Theoretical Physicist and Professor, she covers many salient points that concern both and manages to assert her understandings of the arguments without be
David Rubin
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lisa Randall's book is another attempt in a long line of books about contemporary physics which is aimed at the interested buy not scientifically educated public. It must be extremely difficult to explain highly sophisticated, highly-mathematically oriented concepts to the lay reader while maintaining his or her interest. We should thank these brilliant and gifted scientists for making the effort to help us understand these often non-intuitive concepts without the use of the difficult math which ...more
Scott Moore
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pop-sci
I really enjoyed this book: I'd love to give it 5 stars but three things prevent it for me:

(1) I didn't understand the narrative flow, although I enjoyed each chapter. I couldn't quite follow the thread, robbing me of the final satisfaction of seeing it "all come together". Maybe the chapters weren't intended to build on each other (much) and I only imagined that they should?

(2) In several cases, I *almost* understood the physics but wished that she had used just one more example, or substituted
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Wonderful book about particle physics. Lisa Randall takes you on a very exciting journey as she explains how the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) works, where the the idea for it came from and what interpretations will be made out of experimental data. She takes the time to talk a bit about the Higgs particle (it was not discovered yet when the book was written). As we get to the end, she also discusses our current status in cosmology and the enigma surrounding dark matter and dark energy and why we ...more
Hely Branco
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the best science divulgation books I've read. Lisa Randall makes excellent comments of the latest advances in physics, masterfully explaining relevant aspects about the weirdly interesting new discoveries and theories in Quantum Mechanics, and the new insights regarding the macro-structure of the Cosmos as told by modern Cosmology. She dedicates a good part of the book to tell us about the LHC history, perfectly illustrating it's importance. It's not only one of, if no the, bigge ...more
Menglong Youk
Some of the contents in this book are quite complicated that I need to read the whole book twice in order to absorb what's in it.

I've read quite a number of books on the impacts of science on the society and the critical role it plays, which is discussed again in Knocking on Heaven's Door, but what differentiates this book from others is that, the author gives quite a detailed information regarding the intricate working mechanism of the LHC and the other important machines at CERN. Readers will
James F
Apr 01, 2016 rated it liked it
This is really a combination of two books; one is a simple explanation of scientific method and worldview and the other is a description of the Large Hadron Collider and what it may find. The explanation of how science works is good if fairly basic; the most important part is discussing scales and effective theories. Unfortunately she mixes it with a weak-kneed criticism of religion, which annoys me in books of popular science -- I haven't taken religion seriously since I was eleven, and I doubt ...more
Bob Nichols
Jun 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
This is a disappointing book. The collection of the author's thoughts about the role of science and many of the key insights of physics seem repetitive of what has been said before. A good part of the book is about the Higgs boson and the Large Hadron Collider. That presentation was heavy on jargon and detail, and light on why all of this is significant for the non-expert reader, although it's probably excellent for those who want to get a full story on the Collider. The organization of the book ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
Lisa Randall is a tenured Harvard physicist, no mean accomplishment. She has become a bit of a personality figure, partly because she is a woman in a man's profession, partly because she is an attractive woman in a man's profession, and partly because (rumor has it) she is a lesbian woman in a man's profession. Whatever!

The book is about the need for a new model of particles--the Standard Model ignores gravity and contains restrictions that make little sense. Randall reviews some basic aspects o
Jul 04, 2014 rated it liked it
There seems to be two objectives to this book: the nature of science and its relationship with religion and beauty and the creativity that lies at its core; and the present state of particle physics and the roll the Large Hadron Collider will play going forward. Her meditations on the nature of science are welcome and thoughtful. She articulates passionately the beauty of the scientific method and the importance of scale.

Next she gives us great insights into particle physics with an easy to foll
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book introduces the reader to some of the recent research in the field of fundamental physics, with an emphasis on the now-constructed Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. The author's enthusiasm and excitement for this new system is apparent on every page. As she correctly describes the LHC as simultaneously the world's most advanced and sophisticated machine, and also its largest in physical extent. It is certainly the most remarkable scientific instrument ever created, a ...more
Dec 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A nice summary of recent happenings at the LHC and, through that, a survey of contemporary physics. Randall's got an interesting perspective on the intersection of particle physics and cosmology, two topics which have fascinated me since I was a teenager, and this is a good overview of where those fields stand.

Randall intersperses the book with her thoughts on creativity and science-thinking, which I appreciated as she touches on the disparity between theory and data that underlies so many publ
Jul 06, 2012 added it
This was interesting and generally pretty clear in describing some physics that is just ridiculously complex. Randall is a serious theoretical physicist and brings a good first hand view of what such people actually do with the LHC and what they hope to do next. It's topical just now because of the Higgs and she goes into just what the Higgs is and what it means. At the time of writing the Higgs had not been announced, of course, but reading this helped me understand the announcement much better ...more
Mar 17, 2013 rated it liked it
My rating has less to do with any recommendation for this book but more of my own personal reaction to it. In terms of recommendation, I recommend this book highly to those who want to know more about particle physics and the Higgs-Boson business and a thing or two about scientific thought. For my own purposes, I found Simon Singh's Big Bang theory much more enlightening in terms of how scientific thought progresses. Lisa Randall is much more contemporary with her content, of course, but this bo ...more
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LISA RANDALL is Professor of Physics at Harvard University. She began her physics career at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. She was a finalist, and tied for first place, in the National Westinghouse Science Talent Search. She went on to Harvard where she earned the BS (1983) and PhD (1987) in physics. She was a President's Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, a postdoctoral ...more

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“Despite my resistance to hyperbole, the LHC belongs to a world that can only be described with superlatives. It is not merely large: the LHC is the biggest machine ever built. It is not merely cold: the 1.9 kelvin (1.9 degrees Celsius above absolute zero) temperature necessary for the LHC’s supercomputing magnets to operate is the coldest extended region that we know of in the universe—even colder than outer space. The magnetic field is not merely big: the superconducting dipole magnets generating a magnetic field more than 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s are the strongest magnets in industrial production ever made.

And the extremes don’t end there. The vacuum inside the proton-containing tubes, a 10 trillionth of an atmosphere, is the most complete vacuum over the largest region ever produced. The energy of the collisions are the highest ever generated on Earth, allowing us to study the interactions that occurred in the early universe the furthest back in time.”
“[The ceremonial key to the city of Padua] is engraved with a quote from Galileo that is also on display at the physics department of the university...'I deem it of more value to find out a truth about however light a matter than to engage in long disputes about the greatest questions without achieving any truth.” 6 likes
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