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We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  4,143 ratings  ·  664 reviews
Prepare to learn everything we still don't know about our strange, mostly mysterious universe.

PHD Comics creator Jorge Cham and particle physicist Daniel Whiteson have teamed up to spelunk through the enormous gaps in our cosmological knowledge, armed with their popular infographics, cartoons, and unusually entertaining and lucid explanations of science.

In We Have No Idea,
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Riverhead Books
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John fraser Yes, but not to great depth. If you know little about them you’ll find this does a great job of explaining the basics. If you’ve read more than one in…moreYes, but not to great depth. If you know little about them you’ll find this does a great job of explaining the basics. If you’ve read more than one introduction to these you won’t find out much. (less)

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 ·  4,143 ratings  ·  664 reviews

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Caidyn (BW Reviews; he/him/his)
This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews.


The reason I picked this book up was because it reminded me of A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. That book was about the known universe and the scientists behind it. Literally, chock full of hilarious anecdotes about the scientists who created/discovered things that was presented in an easy and humorous way. However, this book is about what we don't know. About how the more answers we have, the more questions crop up
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
If you like your physics with a side of dad-joke level puns, then this is totally the book for you. It's a fun romp through some of the wilder aspects of physics, though if you've got a fairly high level of understanding to start with then this book might feel like something of a review. For those who don't know physics at all, I'd worry that they might not be able to distinguish some of the punnier jokes, but I think most people should be able to parse it out. Overall a fun read to get you thin ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction

On the inside flyleaf of We Have No Idea, it states:

Armed with their popular infographics, cartoons, and unusually entertaining and lucid explanations of science, (Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson) give us the best answers currently available for a lot of questions that are still perplexing scientists, including:

• Why does the universe have a speed limit?

• Why aren't we all made of antimatter?

• What (or who) is attacking the Earth with tiny, superfast particles?

• What is dark matter, and why does
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
A very intriguing title, certainly and I found this to be humorous at times, but I don't know enough about quantam physics, etc., to tell the real from the jokes. For example, most of the footnote explanations are jokes themselves, but I'm not sure about the footnote 67 on page 156: "Muons and taus are not extra-dimensional versions of electrons, because they don't have a regular mass spacing , and don't have the same weak-force interactions as electrons." Some readers might think, "Oh, exactly. ...more
Jose Moa
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good complement to de book What We Cannot Know by Marcus du Sautoy,because is not centered so much in the phylosofical side as in physics and cosmology.

We are living a golden age of science popularization with a lot of good books abot disparate subjects.
This one is a example,is a book that joins science,frontiers of science ,fine humor and amusing drawings.
The book beguins saying that we only know the 5% of matter ,the rest 95% composed of dark matter and energy we almost have no
Pretty good popular science

Worth reading. Maybe too much focus on cosmology for my taste, but we can not have everything. 3 more words needed because of this stupid app.
Anna J. Shelby ☕
Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very lighthearted approach to some heavy questions and it's certainly solves none of them. I enjoyed the weird jokes and the fool proof examples make it a bit easier to understand the complicated science underneath. A good book to start your science quest with!
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to overstate how good this book is at conveying, in a simple fashion and with an unending series of graphics and "dad jokes", some very complex materials.

Each chapter is a topic in physics that "we" (we being scientists - I have almost no idea about most things) have surprisingly little idea about (hence the name), with topics that include time travel, the nature of empty space, why particles have mass, how big the universe is, etc. It's basic and strips out all of the math and hard b
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: _myshelf, ensaio, ebook, 2019
If you gave up reading Stephen Hawking because you couldn’t grasp it but you really like science and want to understand weird and opaque concepts like particle theory, black matter, space ripples and the meaning of live, this is the book for you.
It is great and fun reading, by real scientists with a no-bullshit approach on some of the most complex matters of cutting edge physics.
Highly recommended.
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Entertaining mix of text and toons. This is a great book for younger readers and those intrigued by physics but nervous or intimidated by the possibility of complicated explanations. There's no math here, but there are lots of interesting ideas--with good, vivid examples--and plenty of pop culture references and funny bits to stir up just about anyone's Sense of Wonder.
Peter Tillman
I liked the *idea* behind this book: two hip young physicists, one a cartoonist, explaining how little we actually know about our universe. The execution -- well, the (alleged) humor, while OK in small doses, wore me down. I did learn some things, and the cartoon-diagrams were (sometimes) helpful. But, basically, the book's aim-point is people who know little about modern physics. Which does (kind-of) include me, except that I am (was) a professional geologist/geochemist, and I keep up with gene ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
covers topics in physics and cosmology where we have a profound ignorance of what is going on. Right now we can't answer questions like what is the stuff that makes up 95% of the universe, Why do we have charmed, Strange, top and bottom quarks which don't seem to have any purpose as far as we (ordinary matter beings) are concerned. Why three plus one dimensions, What about time. What happened before the big bang. Why inflation and what drives it. If you are interested in questions where the phys ...more
Travis S
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Daniel and Jorge signed a pre release copy for me, and I'm a very excited to have read it! Very funny, as expected from the creators of PhD comics. Gives a great impression of the scope of our universe and just how much we don't understand. I recommend it for anyone to read!
Rosey Waters
Physics has always been my weakest subject in the sciences. It seems to be where my brain stops being able to pick things up with ease and instead goes “but whyyyyyyyy?!”

So when I picked this up I thought it would help. Easy physics! Excellent!

I still don’t understand physics. I found this boom to be dad joke filled and amusing all the same (the audiobook is filled with audio effects too).

Ultimately, this was interesting but not illuminating. I enjoyed it, and even had some parts where I FINALLY
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was surprised to find this book to be funny..I often laughed out loud
at the same time I was struggling with complicated concepts.
There are so many unknowns; here is a tiny sample: why is the universe expanding and how will it end;wha is dark matter and dark energy; how big is the universe; what is time and what is space?

I recommend this book and applaud the authors for their fun and humor.
Vladimir Slaykovsky
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Without loads of silly jokes I would rate it 5 stars. It is on par with best Hawking's books. Latest discoveries such as gravitational waves and extrasolar planets are discussed
Eric Lin
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
I couldn't take it. The writing is super patronizing, and tries to make everything a joke. There were informative portions here, but the tone was just insufferable (similar to how I felt about The Hard Thing About Hard Things)

I get that this was written to make astrophysics more palatable to 'normals', but its effect felt more like the phenoma being addressed in The War on Normal People.

You need to make jokes about deconstructing llamas (there is more than than one llama joke in this
book, and o
If you've ever been curious about physics, astronomy and the fundamental questions of the universe, this is your book. Seriously. Daniel and Jorge are amazing at explaining mind-bogging concepts and scientific terms. I have two complaints, but these come as a fan of the podcast and not as a reader or the book:
1- there's no mention of bananas1;
2- there's no jorge co-reading the book.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Jorge Cham is a smart guy and the creator of the PHD webcomic, which pokes gentle fun at scientists and grad students. Daniel Whiteson is another smart guy --a partical phycisist at UC Irvine. Together they wrote this book about all the stuff in the universe that smart guys like them have no idea bout.

Well, not ALL the stuff. Mostly it's about particle physics, astronomy, and related topics. How big is the universe? Are there more than three dimensions? What is time? Is there other life out ther
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
While most books tell you everything there is to know about a topic, We Have No Idea flips that on its head and tells you all that we still don't know about physics and the universe (which is a lot, it turns out). I went into this book having some knowledge of the topics covered, and it was really interesting to see them approached from the other side of what we don't know yet, especially with respect to how these topics relate to each other and fit into a bigger picture.

The tone and images thro
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
This book has a compelling premise of "these are the open questions in physics and some guesses as to what the answers could be". For instance, we've identified and characterized some 18 sub-atomic particles yes seemingly all of the matter we see is made up of only three (up quark, down quark, and the electron) plus the force-carrying particles. What are the other 12 for? The book then walked through some 10 to 15 more questions and in some cases outlined what potential answers could look like.

Noah Goats
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
The illustrations in We Have No Idea seem like an attempt to copy Randall Munroe’s work in “What If” and XKCD, but these illustrations completely lack the visual wit of Munroe’s. Some help explain things a bit but most are a waste of space. And the attempts at being funny in this book are disastrous. The authors have many fine qualities, but being funny isn’t one of them. The jokes produce cringing rather than laughter. The huge number of failed jokes, both in the illustrations and in the text i ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A properly pulled-off heist- physics doesn't even know what hit it. Reading notes:
- The humor is egregiously bad/dumb, but in a comfortable, ugly couch kind of way that matches tone.
- Any philosophical/intellectual deficiencies (and they are there), are easily forgivable because they simply mirror deficiencies in the larger scientific community. This does mean a few chapters are real duds, but seeing as the chapters on gravity, dark matter, the size of the universe, etc. were phenomenal, who ca
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a truly excellent read. The authors break down very difficult concepts into easy-to-understand explanations, with loads of relevant examples. Plenty of playful illustrations, gobs of humor, and a humble attitude toward what is (and is not!) known by science make this a delightful read. This book is highly accessible whether you have prior familiarity with modern quantum and relativistic physics or not, and yet even if you are well-read in this area, the authors' fresh and honest present ...more
Akhil Munjal
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book explains the deepest darkest secrets of our universe. Emphasis throughout the book are on questions science has no anwser for. And hence this book is different from many other books because instead of filling pages with half baked theories that may or may not stick, this book is upfront about what science just doesnt know, followed-up with some of the most promising explanations. I would recommend this book to readers with an existing basic knowledge of physics and science with a motiv ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
"We Have No Idea" is perhaps the funnest and funniest physics book I've yet to read! It's intriguing and profound, whilst also easy to understand, with great comic illustrations, graphs, and many jokes.... though some of the puns were a tad groan-worthy! It's an extremely gratifying read, discussing what we do know -- and pointing out many of the things that remain a mystery in our wild and wonderful and wacky universe. "We Have No Idea" is a must-read for anyone interested in this topic. It wou ...more
Christopher Bradford
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was OK. I was a physics and astronomy major in college so I already knew most of the stuff they were talking about. Take out what I already knew and all of the corny jokes and attempts at humor and I found about 20% of the book useful. I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a strong science background. If you do have a strong background in science (physics, astronomy, cosmology) then much of this book will just be annoying.
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
The ideas are so complex and so interesting but why does Cham talk to us like we're children? There are so many cutesy dad jokes and puns in here and I came for the science. I can't imagine anyone picking up a book about the universe that can't read it just for the ideas. It was so frustrating to read beyond all the cute to get to the very fascinating text.
Jun 07, 2018 added it
Pros: explains the anti-intuitive and complex fundamentals of modern physics and cosmology succinctly and with admirable clarity.

Cons: the constant barrage of groanworthy puns, dad jokes and tongue-in-cheek footnotes starts grating by the third chapter at the latest and it never, ever ceases.

So is it a 3- or a 4-star effort? I have no idea.
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
What a wholesome book. The humor is really pleasant and integrated very well into the actual scientific content of the book.

While it is called "We have no idea", after reading this you'll probably have learnt quite a few things.

And if, like me, you have no idea about physics, the topics this book deals with are explained in a very casual and easy to understand manner.
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Jorge Cham is a Chinese-Panamanian post-doc best known for his popular newspaper and web comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD Comics). He first started drawing PhD Comics as a graduate student at Stanford University, and has since been syndicated in several university newspapers and in three published book collections.

Jorge Cham received his Bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech in 1997, and ear

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