Fear of a Black Universe: An Outsider's Guide to the Future of Physics (Hardcover)
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Brown University Professor of Physics
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"The rabbit hole gets wrestled here. An old school saying applies: the more you know, the more you don’t know. Dance along this read into the unknown and find out that this book may be the best ever answer to ‘What is soul?'"
—Chuck D, rapper and co-founder of Public Enemy
*Starred Reviews* from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly!
One of Kirkus's Best Science Books of 2021
In this important guide to science and society, a cosmologist argues that physics must embrace the excluded, listen to the unheard, and be unafraid of being wrong. Years ago, cosmologist Stephon Alexander received life-changing advice: to discover real physics, he needed to stop memorizing and start taking risks. In Fear of a Black Universe, Alexander shows that great physics requires us to think outside the mainstream -- to improvise and rely on intuition. His approach leads him to three principles that shape all theories of the universe: the principle of invariance, the quantum principle, and the principle of emergence. Alexander uses them to explore some of physics' greatest mysteries, from what happened before the big bang to how the universe makes consciousness possible. Drawing on his experience as a Black physicist, he makes a powerful case for diversifying our scientific communities. Compelling and empowering, Fear of a Black Universe offers remarkable insight into the art of physics.
About the Author
Stephon Alexander is a professor of theoretical physics at Brown University, an established jazz musician, and an immigrant from Trinidad who grew up in the Bronx. He is the 2020 president of the National Society of Black Physicists and a founding faculty Director of Brown University's Presidential Scholars program, which boosts underrepresented students. In addition to his academic achievements, he was the scientific consultant to Ava DuVernay for the feature film A Wrinkle in Time. His work has been featured by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, WIRED, and many other outlets. He has been a guest on Nova, the “Brian Lehrer Show”, and Neil deGrasse Tyson's “StarTalk,” among much else.
One of the Best Science Books of 2021—Kirkus
"The rabbit hole gets wrestled here. An old school saying applies: the more you know, the more you don’t know. Dance along this read into the unknown and find out that this book may be the best ever answer to ‘What is soul?'"—Chuck D, rapper and co-founder of Public Enemy
"A whirlwind ride through the nature of reality, modern physics and the true meaning of being an outsider."—C. Brandon Ogbunu, The Undefeated
“The book reminds me of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time—very brief and very ambitious. It covers an enormous amount of material and offers insights not only into physics but how we do physics and who we are as physicists.”—David Spergel, winner of the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
"This beautiful and surprising book will leave readers wanting to learn more about the author and his mind-bending ideas. .... Lush with ideas and bold in its analysis of the status quo, this book reorients our view of science and the universe." (Starred review.)
"Theoretical physicist Alexander searches the far reaches of the cosmos while addressing the experiences of marginalized people in STEM fields in his refreshing survey....The result is both an excellent work of advocacy and a welcoming introduction to physics." (Starred review.)—Publishers Weekly
“[A] timely reminder of the need to hear a wider variety of voices in physics.”—Nature
“Readers with a strong background in physics and an appetite for connecting the physical world to sociological and metaphysical questions will find much to appreciate in this book.”—Science
“Stephon Alexander has done it again - his new book Fear of a Black Universe opens many dimensions - it’s an endlessly stimulating, hyper complex overview, by a deeply musical scientist and mathematician. From Public Enemy’s classic “Fear of a Black Planet” hip hop album and things like how what happened before the Big Bang, on over to how consciousness itself is woven into the fabric of space-time, this book will blow your mind. In Fear of a Black Universe we can see a clear lineage in the way that Stephon Alexander draws a kinetic, and hyper eclectic tapestry woven from the threads of physics, high end mathematical thinking, and the inclusive languages of urban African American culture’s engagement with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and fields as diverse as string theory, dark matter, and dark energy. A must read for anyone who thinks of physics and music as being inseparable. This book really pushes the envelope!”—Paul D. Miller aka D.J. Spooky
“Einstein famously remarked that mystery is the source of all true art and science. This book explores some of the biggest mysteries of all: dark matter, dark energy, origin of the Universe, and origin of life -- in ways that are unconventional and enthralling, yet down to Earth. We go on a journey with a brave adventurer for whom physics is a passionate pursuit of beauty and truth. And his passion shines through on every page.”—Edward Frenkel, author of Love and Math
"An expansive and poetic account of not just the theory of physics, but the dreamy processes that lead to its creation, and the opposing forces that support and hinder its progress."
—Eugenia Cheng, author of X+Y
"Read this book and you'll feel awe at the grandeur and the remaining mysteries of our world, but you'll also get a hit of the human side of physics. Science is made of people, and is for people; this book revives the humanist project that launched science in the first place." —Jaron Lanier, author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
"Very few Black theoretical physicists have risen to the top level of professorships and research appointments at Ivy League Universities. Stephon Alexander is one of those few, having succeeded by means of very hard work, a formidable intelligence, and a prolific creativity. He also needed vast amounts of stubborn persistence and character to overcome gracefully the effects of what can only be called prejudice, both conscious and unconscious. In this courageous and provocative book, Alexander recounts his personal story, while offering a hopeful perspective for our future. Discussing the origins of his boldest ideas, from his practice as a professional jazz musician to his explorations of Jungian psychology, is especially inspiring." —Lee Smolin, author of Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution
"Stephon Alexander, a professor of physics at Brown University and the 2020 president of the National Society of Black Physicists, dives headfirst into the mysteries of our universe. Fear of a Black Universe not only unpacks the poetry of theoretical physics but also critiques the glaring homogeneity of the field. Alexander merges the personal with the scientific in this compelling guide."—LitHub
“One of the key science books of the fall.”—Library Journal
“Alexander blends anecdote and vignette with a whistle stop tour of topical, controversial and unresolved problems in modern cosmology… Fear of a Black Universe makes a convincing case that we need greater diversity in worldview, mindset and culture.”—Physics World