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


Booklist Reviews 2012 June #1
*Starred Review* Aesthetically, wrote Wittgenstein, the miracle is that the world exists. In his lifelong quest to penetrate this miracle and, so, to explain why there is something rather than nothing, Holt has entertained deep thoughts. Here he invites readers to join him in the intellectual explorations that sustain such thoughts. Readers share in Holt's reflections on how the universe originated, pondering the cosmogonies found in Greek philosophy and Norse mythology and interrogating the theology of creation expounded by Anselm and Aquinas. Though Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume and Kant dismissed the entire question of cosmic origins as an irrelevance, Holt realizes that the modern theory of the big bang has pushed that question inescapably back into view. To cope with the difficulties inherent in modern explanations of cosmic beginnings, Holt seeks out living authorities, such as historian Adolf Gr├╝nbaum and physicist Steven Weinberg, probing their views with relentless curiosity. But Holt embeds these animated interviews in a profoundly personal narrative punctuated by insistent life events, such as the abrupt death of his mother. Winding its way to no reassuringly tidy conclusion, this narrative ultimately humanizes the huge metaphysical questions Holt confronts, endowing them with real-life significance. A potent synthesis of philosophy and autobiography. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 June #1
A guided tour of ideas, theories and arguments about the origins of the universe. Any book with such a title is bound to raise at least as many questions as it tries to answer. "I cannot help feeling astonished that I exist," writes Holt, "that the universe has come to produce these very thoughts now bubbling up in my stream of consciousness." With too much abstract theory, the author runs the risk of the narrative collapsing under its own weight. However, if he moves too far in the other direction, rigorous exploration gives way to platitudes. Holt finds the right recipe, combining a wide variety of subjects in his exploration of his "improbable existence." The author lists his background as an "essayist and critic on philosophy, math, and science," which could serve as the boiled-down review of this book, as he draws from those three disciplines and others and respectfully does not shy away from posing thoughtful, difficult questions to his interview subjects. Through discussions with philosophers of religion and science, humanists, biologists, string theorists, as well as research into the scholarship of days past--from Heidegger, Parmenides, Pythagoras and others--and an interview with John Updike, Holt provides a master's-level course on the theories and their detractors. The interludes find the author positioning himself as an existential gumshoe, but also working through the sudden loss of a pet and, later, the death of his mother. Holt may not answer the question of his title, but his book deepens the appreciation of the mystery. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 July #1

Freelance critic Holt seeks to answer the question, "why is there something rather than nothing?" He fails to fully answer, but not before reintroducing 11th-century monk Saint Anselm's ontological proof ("God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived") and its various subsequent spins laid out alongside and sometimes in opposition to the claims of evolutionary biology, neuropsychology, theoretical physics, natural religion theology, contemporary mysticism, and militant atheism. Holt, however, does not merely stage a battle of great treatises in which Newton gives way to Kant who yields to Einstein, etc. Instead--with gossipy bits preserved--he interviews several philosophers and scientists currently engaged in answering the question, including physicist David Deutsch, a nonbeliever who theorizes a "multiverse," and Richard Swinburne, a contrastingly conventional-seeming philosopher of religion whose belief in God is rooted in faith and not "pure logic." But Holt's many anecdotes do not make his difficult subject more accessible. VERDICT Holt's efforts to make the why of existence compelling to a highly sophisticated lay audience will only succeed with the most committed of the cosmologically inclined; this is really a book of philosophy to be read by philosophers and Big Theory intellectuals.--Scott H. Silverman, Richmond, IN

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