With one adamant exception, most of the members of our group had a low opinion of this book. The general feeling is that the book is hard to understand and poorly written and that the author comes across as rather arrogant. The group's average rating (on a scale of 0 to 10) was just 3.9. Rosie wrote the following appraisal:
This author bored me to death. I didn’t like his writing style at all. After about the fifth chapter I gave up. Frequently I wasn’t sure what he was saying. More often, he kept telling me what he was going to prove, but never did so—just kept previewing and previewing and previewing........ His flippancy and arrogance also greatly annoyed me. He downed all sorts of science and scientists, and again ...to me... never gave any good reasons why......just downed them. His distinct lack of organization and articulation were terribly disappointing. I had really expected to enjoy this book.
What’s ironic is that....as far as I could make out what he was advocating....I agreed with a lot of it. I agree that emergence is the key area we should be looking at. I believe that the whole is something more than the sum of its parts. I agree that one can go too far in examining the minute parts of something and lose sight of the forest.
I disagree with his intense hostility and aversion to string theory and string theorists. Someone gets to do the theoretical side of physics. Theory and experiment are both important....and it would be nice if the theorists and experimenters talked to each other and worked together. (Why can’t they just all get along???)
One more irony: I had tossed the book aside...had no intention of finishing it. But there it was sitting on my sidetable. A couple of weeks later, during a TV commercial, I picked it up and thought “I’ll just look at his last chapter....they all change gears in the last chapter...and often reveal interesting religious and political biases that have little to do with their area of ‘expertise’”.
Upshot..... I thought the last chapter was really entertaining!!! Nothing proven again, but laugh-out-loud entertaining.
I started going backward more. The second to last chapter , “Picnic Table in the Sun, was delightful—indeed the modern version of the stoa!!!
On to the third to the last chapter, “Star Warriors”........I thought: Here he goes again with the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.......actually he seems to think that both “sides” are wrong and only a few “rebels” like him do any worthwhile work. However ..... the HIDDEN BLOODY ROAST story at the end of the chapter was GREAT!!
Chapter previous to that (chapter 13 I think). Getting very annoyed again. Gave up on the book.
CONCLUSION: I boosted my rating from a 2 to a 4 just 'cause I enjoyed three chapters so much.
Many people agreed with the thrust of Rosie's criticisms. Kirby thought the book is "crappily written" and that "many paragraphs seem like gobbledygook, especially in the first couple chapters." He added that Laughlin should have explained emergence much better.
Kevin S. agreed with both Rosie and Kirby. He said the book confused him and that it seemed like different chapters had no unifying theme. He also said that the book is poorly written, and that he didn't read it all. Barbara said she read it cover to cover, but thought that the book was not clear, contradicts itself, and was not well-written. She viewed the book in terms of "old laws" versus "new laws" and wondered if there would be better organizational laws of nature in the future.
Ron said the book was frustrating, and the stories inserted didn't seem to apply to the physics examples. Rich also thought the book is poorly written, and he said he felt as if he could have written Rosie's summation himself. He thought Laughlin's arrogance came out throughout his book and that he was talking way over his audience's head.
Scott, however, had a much more positive take on the book than the rest of the group. Here are his summation notes:
Notes on: A Different Universe: Reinventing
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