NB. I was sent this book as a review copy.

From Princeton University Press

I’ve read many many books popularising aspects of theoretical physics. I’ve also read many autobiographies, talking about what it is like to be a theoretical physicist. However, this book combines the two more beautifully than I have read in any other. On the one hand, the book takes the reader on a journey through our understanding of gravity, from Newton to Einstein, to theories of cosmology, the cosmological constant problem and on to the gravitational wave experiments which have been revolutionising our view of the universe over the last few years, and finally to the theory that Claudia de Rham has helped to pioneer over the last two decades. The exploration of Massive Gravity is reserved for the final two chapters. Yet, this complex topic is presented in a remarkably clear manner, both showing the theoretical hurdles that had to be overcome, while also looking at a range of experiments which may shed light on its veracity. While the topic of Massive Gravity is not one which non-physicists are likely to be able to gain deep insight into in a popular book, I believe they’ll get the gist of the ideas. The other topics on gravity which are covered I think would be understandable to anyone who has a reasonable imagination. They are as well-explained as you will find in any other popular science book on the topic. Overall, the popular science aspects of the book give a concise, but wonderfully clear picture of our understanding of gravity, and what aspects remain mysterious.

The other stream of the book is itself a series of parallel tales: It is the tale of de Rham as someone desiring from an early age to become an astronaut and getting so painfully close to this dream. It is the tale of what it is like to be a working scientist, of the travel involved, both in good ways and bad, and of the problems of being in a couple as an academic, having to juggle the relationship, and the need to follow the job positions. And finally it is to some extent the story of what it is to be a female scientist in what has been a male-dominated field for so long, with many extremely successful women being pushed out actively. This latter aspect is not the focus, but it is almost impossible to ignore in the story of a female scientist in just about any field.

The story of her life is really beautifully told and there is a true magic to the path that she took, with twists and turns along the way, and the odd minor miracle, which are reflected in the journey of our understanding of spacetime. While at first it took me a while to get into it, thinking that this was going to be just another book explaining our understanding of GR, and possibly getting into string theory at the end, it turned out to be much more. And as someone who still has one toe dipped into the world of theoretical particle physics, it brought back the memories of how exciting, frustrating, depressing, and beautiful it can be, to be a part of it, often all within the same afternoon.

For anyone seeking insight into gravity, or what it means to be a theoretical physicist, this book offers a wonderful journey to get lost in for a few hours.

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