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What a Wonderful World: One Man's Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  581 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Why do we breathe? What is money? How does the brain work? Why did life invent sex? Does time really exist? How does capitalism work - or not, as the case may be? Where do mountains come from? How do computers work? How did humans get to dominate the Earth? Why is there something rather than nothing?

In What a Wonderful World, Marcus Chown, bestselling author of Quantum The
Hardcover, 424 pages
Published October 3rd 2013 by Faber Faber (first published October 1st 2013)
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3.97  · 
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 ·  581 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Helen Callaghan
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: popular-science
The thing about What a Wonderful World is that it is like a fruitcake – very rich, very dense, and full of tasty little nuggets. For instance, did you know that the invention of cookery was a milestone on a par with tool use? It allowed us to broaden our diets in prehistory, and any ecologist will tell you what access to good nutrition will do for any animal. Or that galaxies are organized, and indeed possibly even created, by the giant black holes at their centre?

What a Wonderful World is a dig
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Marcus Chown has a writing style which keeps your attention. While he has written a number of books on the universe, this one includes several other questions we often have such as money, electrical and others. In some cases it will seem like revisiting school and college stuff. Overall a good book on things we are typically curious about......
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Marcus Chown is an English physicist that has written many books. He writes for his wife. Who is a nurse. If she gets bored, he knows he’s gone too far down the deep end. Good strategy.
I mostly read this book to ascertain if I should give this to my 10 yo nerd nephew. I decided I should - it is fascinating and engaging throughout. Except for maybe the parts about international economics - that fell a bit flat. My favourite section was on the inflationary universe, inconsistencies in the Big Ban
Emma Gerts
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
While I did enjoy this book, it could have been better. I found it a little repetitive at times and there were some totally pointless analogies in it which added nothing to the text. For similar information but without the bothersome style of this book I preferred A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Turns out almost 40% of the book consists of footnotes, bibliography, index etc. Therefore, finished the book sooner than I expected. But I so wish there was more to it.
Absolutely loved every chapter. This book put things in perspective. Made me realise how narrow our purview about life and the world is.
A great read!
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is so much we think we know but really don't when it comes down to it. Or maybe we do, but can't recall the crucial details. Or maybe that's just me. Either way, I chewed my way through What a Wonderful World in a couple of days and at a point felt like it could substitute several years of education. Or that it could substitute the dry textbooks required for several educational courses, at any rate. It's to the point (with a hint of humour), well-researched and - as if I haven't used the w ...more
Warren Gossett
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was especially interesting when I attempted to follow the footnotes by looking at online sources in science and economics. It brings out the point that science is a never ending tale that is a long way from giving a perfect explanation of reality or history. But the interest is in the way science and technology develops and changes and new theories are thrown up.
James Cripps
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
I liked the stuff on cells and evolution and humanity etc... But when it came to quantum relativity and things like quarks I could not comprehend. A good attempt at trying to explain everything, but the content is not as catchy as the cover. I would definitely recommend Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" over this one
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Biologists, Chemists and physicists (anyone who likes science)
A truly interesting book that makes theories like the Quantum Theory seem straight forward. I would recommend this to anyone who likes science and is interested in learning about how the universe works.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This ranged through biology through geology, politics, economics and on to physics. And the physics part really stretched my grey matter.

An ambitious brief - writing a book about everything - and Chown did it excellently. Highly recommended.
Jul 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Don't read it for the humour.
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Halfway through this book I thought, god this guy writes like a physicist. Turns out he has degrees in physics and astrophysics so of course.

I couldn't really figure out who the target audience for this book was. Chown attempts to explain the most basic and fundamental science theories through several simple and honestly laughable metaphors (using a sneeze to explain entropy?...well, that's certainly novel). Perhaps this book was geared towards those who have yet to foray at all into the world o
William Rood
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Many books attempt this task - explaining everything in terms the average person can understand. While I am unsure the original purpose the author had at attempting such a book, I do know that personally it lit a fire in me to learn more. Scattered throughout the pages are facts and pieces of information on a colossally wide range of topics, each of them leaving you speechless and asking for more. The one of note to me - 4D space time, and how mathematically and experimentally it has been proven ...more
Dan Cohen

An interesting idea: get someone good at explaining complex subjects to do so for all the key areas of knowledge - "everything" in the author's words.

Of course, the book doesn't cover everything. It mainly covers biology and physics / cosmology. I found the chapters on those areas better than those on other areas such as capitalism. Even so, the explanations were a little too simplified for my taste. I'd perhaps recommend this book for someone who doesn't normally read about science rather than
Sep 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.5 stars

I was happy to finally find a book that tried to elucidate all the important things in the world around us. Some topics in the book like evolution, cells, brain, capitalism, space etc were nicely explained. Some like quantum theory especially the ones in Part 4 of the book were a bit difficult to understand. The content was dense at times. Wish the quality of the exposition was consistent across topics. Maybe a reread might help. A few illustrations here and there might have hel
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
75% understandable explanation of everything known and unknown.
25% requires very high intelligence to understand his explanations.
Not that they could have been explained any simpler because the concepts are extremely deeply intriquing.
Worth reading for the majority that is explained and believable and worth knowing what we don't or cannot understand.
Timeo Williams
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A great attempt to explain the domains of science in the simplest way possible. One quote that sticks with me is, " It's not that we don't take these equations seriously. It's that we don't take them seriously enough."

Also, most of science and mathematics is looking for symmetries in nature.
Aug 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Good, enjoyable and trying ever so hard to make the really, really complicated stuff like, quantum physics, genetics, cellular workings and astrophysics understandable to the layman...and only partly succeeding, which is to be expected when you talk of such subjects.
Phyo Aung Thaw
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book can drive you crazy.
All about Physics, if you are really into Physics, buy this, otherwise you have to read a passage at least twice to understand. The bad thing about it is that it doesn't include images.
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Lots of good interesting stuff with excellent explanations of difficult topics. Unfortunately made much less palatable with strident atheism and with a deep progressive political bent whenever possible to shoehorn such things in.
Alyson Walton
Sep 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well. I can't say that is is my favourite Marcus Chown book. To me, it feels as though he had struggled to deal with such big ideas in such small chapters.
Whilst I can understand comparisons drawn to Bill Brysons short history, this book is a different animal.
Very readable just too short I feel.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
great book, lots of interesting subjects well presented and explained.
Rita Alves
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mind-boggling facts about the 4D space-time holographic world within our eyes - feeling like a newborn who's just got in touch with its first lush bath bomb
Nicolás Gärtner-Cala
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Kept me hooked all along!!
Václav Kůta
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I admire author`s knowledge range. In one book, he explains principles of biology, physics (particularly quantum one) and even economy. There are many thoughts that you would never figure out but they help you better undersnad universe. I love the chapters about theory of relativity - they couldn`t have been written better for uninformed readers, but still I didn`t comprehend it fully. There are still things beyond my understanding:) ...more
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wow! My brain hurts!
A wonderful world indeed and one where clearly my deeper understanding is woefully inadequate!
So thank you so much to Marcus Chown for attempting to unravel some of the mysteries of our universe and set it all out in a format that I might understand.
Whilst I consider myself to be fairly intelligent and knowledgeable on topics I have studied, I have to say that Physics was the single subject where I scored a “fail” back in the days when I sat exams on a regular basis. So nobod
William Xu
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a Wonderful World: One Man's Attempt to Explain Big Stuff, is a non-fiction book dedicated to explain how the modern world works, relating to science. This book contains the worlds most significant findings and explains complicated science that takes years to explain and he, Marcus Chown, does it in a intriguing way, such as side tracking like telling jokes. For example, 'My mum made me a homosexual...if I give her a piece of wool will she make me one too?' refers to Dawkins's 'selfish gene ...more
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to IFcoltransG by: Was Quoted At School
What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown is a interesting book providing insight into physics, biology, economics, computer science/mathematics, geology and history. It focuses on why things are the way they happen to be. The book has a cover that does not actively jump out at the reader: black, blue and white with a walnut is not very inspiring or eye-catching, but at least its not busy. The book has no pictures, but it has a glossary, bibliography and index. The parts have well thought out names ...more
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
A book that attempts to explain everything is certainly ambitious and it sufers a little from its scope. In areas where I have a bit of knowledge, the explanations feel a bit superficial. In other chapters - covering quantum mechanics and cosmology, for example - my mind melted.

That said, the explanations are consistently clear and I did learn a fair bit from reading this book. It is, however, better as a jumping off point than a complete explanations - as attested to by the copius notes at the
Nov 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Love Chown's books, but this just felt too simple compared to some of his prior stuff. Also, a some of the content repeats itself from chapter to chapter, although this should be expected considering the subject matter.

If anything, it serves as a great introduction to his work, but I would recommend some of his better books, like We Need to Talk about Kelvin, or The Quantum Zoo.

For a more complete book about the explanation of "everything", I'd recommend A Short History of Nearly Everything by B
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Marcus Chown is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. Formerly a radio astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he is currently cosmology consultant of the weekly science magazine New Scientist. He is the author of the bestselling Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, The Never Ending Days of Being Dead and The Magic Furnace. He also wrote The Solar System, the bestselling ap ...more
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