Why Does the World Exist?

Why Does the World Exist?

An Existential Detective Story

Book - 2012
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Jim Holt examines mankind's latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe.
Publisher: New York : Liveright, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780871404091
Branch Call Number: 113 HOL 2012
Characteristics: vi, 309 p. ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jun 11, 2014

I seem to be the exception in my review of this book.

Why is there something rather than nothing? Such an intriguing question! Holt surveys many living and historical physicists, mathematicians and philosophers to tease out an answer to this question. As would be expected, each of his sources had a different answer ranging from “because God created it” to “we will never know” to a variety of complex, esoteric, opaque, largely indecipherable and, in some cases, just plain “loopy” logic. Some of the content of the book is in the realm of “how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin?”.

The author assumes that the reader has a substantial background in philosophy and, to a lesser degree physics and mathematics, and the lingos associated with these fields. In addition, he assumes a huge general vocabulary. In the first 40 pages, there were about 20 words I had to look up either because I have never encountered them before or because I have encountered them but had only a vague grasp of their meaning. I read almost exclusively non-fiction and fully expect to run into a few unfamiliar words during the course of a book. But 20 words in the first 40 pages is excessive! Some examples: gnomic, quiddity, lapidary, concinnity, debouching, homiletic, numinous, sacerdotal, ambit, noosphere, inspissate, walpurgisnacht, execrable. My Word spell-checker doesn’t even recognize some of these. Most of these words have synonyms that I and other reasonably well-read people would understand. When writing a book where the content is extremely complex, the least the author could do is use words that the average intelligent person can comprehend. Writing a book should not be an exercise in building the author’s ego but an exercise in relaying information.

I would suggest that the book is accessible only to those who spend the majority of their time in the academic and intellectual world where this type of language and thought process is the norm or to those without that background but who are able to invest the necessary time and effort to parse the sentences to achieve understanding. It takes exposure and practice to be able to easily follow such ideas without engaging in a substantial translation process. Most of us don’t inhabit the milieu that would make that experience possible. Many of us, however, do possess the intellectual curiosity that impels us to read about this subject matter and the intellect necessary to comprehend it when clearly presented. Our curiosity would be more effectively satisfied by simple communicative language.

The book is well structured and, other than the swollen vocabulary, quite well written.

A book such as this should include, in the preface, the following:
a) A description of the intended audience – i.e. required depth of background in the field being discussed.
b) A sample paragraph with the preamble: “If you can understand this, keep reading; if you can’t, this book is likely not for you”.
c) A glossary of technical terms.

Even though I will retain few, if any, details from this book, it was interesting to be exposed to these thought processes. I had no idea that such esoteric (and bizarre?) hypotheses and logic exist. My initial reaction to the book was “I am not smart enough for this kind of thing”. Upon reflection, my conclusion is that I certainly am smart enough but don’t have the time and the background. It would take weeks of slow and careful reading and contemplation to truly comprehend the content and I have other interests demanding my attention (and I have to return the book to the library). I am convinced that if an author were to apply the effort, he/she could write a book on this subject that I and other curious and intelligent readers could comprehend with relative ease. It does not require “dumbing down”; it requires only a “lapidary” presentation of the ideas.

Oct 10, 2013

Mr Holt takes on one of the deep questions about reality. He covers the range of potential answers in a very clear prose that intertwines his own experiences and thoughts with those of a number of experts and authorities, both dead and alive. Highly recommended reading for those interested in the nature of reality and the associated 'big questions'.

roaddogg09 Mar 13, 2013

What a treat. As Rebecca Goldstein says in her review, “Why Does the World Exist? is more fun than a book this serious has any right to be.” And it’s true. Holt’s book was an absolute joy to read. His effortless writing, sense of adventure, and gripping subject matter makes for a wonderful book filled with deep existential questions (and answers?).

Holt goes on a whirlwind tour of the many answers to the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ With philosophical rigor and an infectious joy for knowledge, Holt tells his journey of coming to understand the question and even seeing what the great thinkers of today (and years past) thought of the question.

While on his quest for answers, Holt visits some of the deepest thinkers of our time, from physicists Steven Weinberg and Sir Roger Penrose, Philosophers Adolph Grunbaum, Derek Parfit, and Richard Swinburne, to novelist John Updike. He attempts to find out where these thinkers stand on the question and see their answers to it (if any).

Along the way, Holt traverses the history of philosophy, science, and mathematics to try and tease out exactly what nothing is and how we could get something from nothing. Holt truly brings the mystery of the question to light and makes the reader feel the deep existential quandary of existence.

This was truly a fantastic book. I’d find myself reading it for hours without even noticing. If you’ve ever pondered life and its existence, consider picking up “Why Does the World Exist?”


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings

No similar edition of this title was found at ELPL.

Try searching for Why Does the World Exist? to see if ELPL owns related versions of the work.

To Top