You are here

The Trouble With Gravity

Richard Panek
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Tom Schulte
, on
Just over two hundred pages of main content here includes a solid fifty pages of comparative cosmology. This extended exposition leads into a breezy overview of mankind’s evolving perception of reality from antiquity to today. Gravity is certainly a dominant theme, but it is merely a clothesline to hang upon this chronological history pondering the nature of reality, from the myth maker to the Nobel laureate.
A reader seeking topics such as black holes, gravitational lensing, or multiverses will find such topics crowded into the ending pages by mythologies and tracing the development of geodesy and astrophysics in The Age of Enlightenment. The chronicle of European history is very well told as a race between England and France to measure the globe and an arc from Halley-Newton to Eddington-Einstein to validate theory by observation. Indeed, this could easily be retitled The Trouble with Reality: Solving the Mystery of The Universe. Actually, this is more a history of “pondering” than “solving”. All of this marks the book as a work for popular audiences. No reader will be confronted with equations let alone be required to have an understanding of any physical laws, be they Newton’s or Einstein’s. A reader interested in the effects in the film Interstellar (2014) and their theoretical underpinnings will find that here. Personally, I find much more intriguing the overview of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its unexpected discovery of frequent collisions between black holes. A chapter on that discovery and its implications rather than some paragraphs would add more meat here.
Kip Stephen Thorne is an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate, known for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics is quoted twice in this book as saying, “What is gravity? is a meaningless question.” It may be a meaningless question, yet the history of chasing that question makes for a good read.


Tom Schulte read this book while recovering from a bicycling accident where gravity played an essential role.
The table of contents is not available.