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Third Thoughts: The Universe We Still Don't Know

by Steven Weinberg Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 240 pages
AU$39.99 NZ$40.86
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A wise, personal, and wide-ranging meditation on science and society by the Nobel Prize–winning author of To Explain the World.


For more than four decades, one of the most captivating and celebrated science communicators of our time has challenged the public to think carefully about the foundations of nature and the inseparable entanglement of science and society. In Third Thoughts Steven Weinberg casts a wide net: from the cosmological to the personal, from astronomy, quantum mechanics, and the history of science to the limitations of current knowledge, the art of discovery, and the rewards of getting things wrong.


Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and author of the classic The First Three Minutes, Weinberg shares his views on some of the most fundamental and fascinating aspects of physics and the universe. But he does not seclude science behind disciplinary walls, or shy away from politics, taking on what he sees as the folly of manned spaceflight, the harms of inequality, and the importance of public goods. His point of view is rationalist, realist, reductionist, and devoutly secularist.


Weinberg is that great rarity, a prize-winning physicist who is entertaining and accessible. The essays in Third Thoughts, some of which appear here for the first time, will engage, provoke, and inform—and never lose sight of the human dimension of scientific discovery and its consequences for our endless drive to probe the workings of the cosmos.


I. Science History

1. The Uses of Astronomy

2. The Art of Discovery

3. From Rutherford to the LHC

4. Educators and Academics, Underground in Texas

5. The Rise of the Standard Models

6. Long Times and Short Times

7. Keeping an Eye on the Present—Whig History of Science

8. The Whig History of Science: An Exchange

II. Physics and Cosmology

9. What Is an Elementary Particle?

10. The Universe We Still Don’t Know

11. Varieties of Symmetry

12. The Higgs, and Beyond

13. Why the Higgs?

14. The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics

III. Public Matters

15. Obama Gets Space Funding Right

16. The Crisis of Big Science

17. Liberal Disappointment

18. Keep Loopholes Open

19. Against Manned Space Flight

20. Skeptics and Scientists

IV. Personal Matters

21. Change Course

22. Writing about Science

23. On Being Wrong

24. The Craft of Science, and the Craft of Art

25. New York to Austin, and Return



“Weinberg has a knack for capturing a complex concept in a succinct, unforgettable image… [He’s] one of the smartest and most diligent scientists around.” - Robert Crease, Nature

“This book should be read not only for its insightful and illuminating explanations of a wide range of physical phenomena but also for the opportunity it affords to follow the wanderings of a brilliant mind through topics ranging from high-energy physics and the makeup of the cosmos to poetry, and from the history and philosophy of science to the dangers of economic inequality… [A] captivating book.” - Mario Livio, Science

“One of the 20th century’s greatest physicists, in this collection of essays, shares his strongly-held opinions on everything from the Higgs boson to the state of theoretical physics and the problems of science and society. If you’re a big Steven Weinberg fan, you won’t want to miss his latest.” - Ethan Siegel, Forbes

“A stimulating and admirable book.” - N. David Mermin, Physics Today

“This collection is an easily digestible glimpse into the mind of a thoughtful scientific communicator and shows the truly all-encompassing nature of theoretical physics.” - Andrea Gawrylewski, Scientific American

“Weinberg’s finest collection yet - chock-full of informative content, wise opinion, and intelligent comment. He is an extreme rarity - a great physicist whose writings are entertaining and accessible for both experts and non-specialists. Superb.” - Graham Farmelo, author of The Strangest Man

“Steve Weinberg’s essays are fascinating and thought-provoking as always. Readers will find a lot to think about on a wide range of topics.” - Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study

“The phrase ‘public intellectual’ is much bandied about. Just a few real heavyweights in the world merit the title, and Steven Weinberg is preeminent among them. His collection ranges from deep science on the very frontier of human comprehension, through his trenchant views on public policy, to history and the arts. Compelling reading.” - Richard Dawkins
Steven Weinberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his theory unifying two forces of nature, laying the foundation for the Standard Model of subatomic physics. His other awards include the National Medal of Science and eighteen honorary degrees. Among Weinberg's books are the classic The First Three Minutes and To Explain the World. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and teaches at the University of Texas.