The Universe Within

By Neil Shubin

The Short Take:

The subtitle alone tells you a lot: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People. If you only read one book that addresses the whole of nature — from the beginnings of the universe to the causes behind changing weather patterns — this is the one to read. Shubin not only makes complex systems easy to understand and shows how everything is completely inter-related, he inspires a sense of wonder. And, he does all this in a mere 200 pages.


There’s something almost magical about this book, even though it is pure science. A large part of this is Shubin’s wonderful prose. He makes concepts like plate teutonics, organic chemistry, and planetary physics completely accessible to the non-scientist. Beyond that, he celebrates our connection with everything else in the universe. The very history of the cosmos is contained in our own bodies.

If you’ve ever picked up a popular book about science and promptly put it down again because it was just too complex (I never did get through Hawking’s A Brief History of Time), this is the one you’ve been waiting for. On the other hand, if you have a deep interest in one aspect of natural science — say geology or astronomy — Shubin will tie your special interest into the rest of creation. Either way, it’s a win for readers.

Best of all, this is not just an enlightening read, it is a joyful one.

A Little Plot:

Shubin starts with the building blocks of the universe — the elements that are found in stars as well as our own bodies. He explores rocks, planets, microscopic life, the formation of the continents, pretty much everything; and he brings it all right back to our own structure, bodily functions, and DNA. It’s a remarkable journey.

Granted, there’s not a lot of depth here, but what an enlightening and glorious experience! Hopefully, it will inspire at least some readers to seek more knowledge about our universe.

To visit Shubin’s website dedicated to his writings, click here. If you want to learn more about his academic pursuits, visit his University of Chicago page by clicking here.

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