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When We Cease to Understand the World

No matter how much knowledge we accumulate, there's always a void of what we do not know — a black hole that can never be fully understood. The book conveys this idea through a series of unconnected stories spanning chemistry, mathematics, and physics. It reads like a novel, because eventually, it becomes one. It's best thought of as an alternate history, with many very real facts interspersed.

I can't fault Labatut for this — the perspective he offers transcends facts and historical truth, so he tells the stories he wishes to tell to illustrate his greater truth. However, fundamentally, it's a novel that intersects with truth, but charts its own path. I knew about some of the stories he told, so this was unsettling at times. It felt like I was learning about the real world, with random embellishments thrown in.

This book may resonate with scientifically-curious people who want a story over specific facts. For those who want fictional explorations into the limits of knowledge, or actual histories of the limits of our knowledge, I suspect there's better books out there.


These are entirely subjective, and roughly try to capture my personal enjoyment and usefulness, and how likely I'd recommend it to others. Don't read too much into this unless you love my judgement. Rough guidelines:

A: Top quartile. Changed the way I think about something.

B: Worthwhile. I took away something useful.

C: Didn't hit, wouldn't directly recommend. Likely won't revisit.

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