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Publisher's Summary

"I can imagine few more enjoyable ways of thinking than to read this book."
—Sarah Bakewell, New York Times Book Review, front-page review
Tackling the "darkest question in all of philosophy" with "raffish erudition" (Dwight Garner, The New York Times), author Jim Holt explores the greatest metaphysical mystery of all: why is there something rather than nothing? This runaway best seller, which has captured the imagination of critics and the public alike, traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. Holt adopts the role of cosmological detective, traveling the globe to interview a host of celebrated scientists, philosophers, and writers, "testing the contentions of one against the theories of the other" (Jeremy Bernstein, Wall Street Journal). As he interrogates his list of ontological culprits, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God versus the Big Bang. This "deft and consuming" (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times) narrative humanizes the profound questions of meaning and existence it confronts.
©2012 Jim Holt (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Gary on 07-20-13

Excellent survey of philosophy book

The author uses the question "why does the world exist" and each of his interviews as a narrative device in explaining the fundamental questions of philosophy. There are commonly two ways of explaining philosophy, 1) look at philosophy in its chronological order of development as in the book by Will Durant, "The Story of Philosophy", or as this author does 2) look at how different people consider the question "why there is something instead of nothing".

The author is really good at setting up the background and summarizing the perspective of each of the people interviewed in each of the chapters. The author introduces the listener to many different schools of philosophy both relatively modern and ancient (though almost always from the western tradition). The book really filled in my gaps since Durant's book stopped at 1926 and I got a good background on some philosophy after that period.

I had to listen to each chapter more intently than I usually do for science books but the author explains things such that even a non-philosopher can follow the points being made.

One odd note, I never would have finished a written version of this book, because I would have been doing a constant stream of wiki and google searches on the concepts he kept bringing up. Listening doesn't allow me to do that.

Before reading the book, I would never have been able to say something like this: Aristotle thinks of the world made up of both stuff and structure. The structure can be thought of as the math or process that hold the pieces of the stuff together and so on.... The point is even a non-philosopher can listen to this story and follow what's being said.

The book is not for everyone. After all, it is a survey of philosophy book, but the author tells the story so well that the casual reader will be on the look out for other accessible books on philosophy.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By CHET YARBROUGH on 03-02-15


With a smile and a pair of tennis shoes, Jim Holt tries to sell the idea that there is an answer to the question, “Why Does the World Exist?” Like Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman”, Holt has a gift for gab but neither he nor anyone else is able to close the sale.

It is certainly not that Holt is not a good salesman but he tries to sell a thing impossible to define. No known person has enough theoretical or experimental proof to convince one there is an answer to “Why Does the World Exist?” All that remains is faith, either in science, religion, or philosophy. Holt’s “…Existential Detective Story” is a terrific synthesis of physics, religion, and philosophy but the mystery remains, “Why Does the World Exist?”

Like Don Quixote, Holt puts a pan back on his head, grabs his lance, swings his leg over Rocinante, and tilts at Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” to answer the question of why the world exists. It is simply a matter of what you think. Of course, Holt does not believe this is an answer either. He is a very smart guy, a good writer, and an interesting philosopher.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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