Why Does the World Exist? — A Potentially Exhausting Subject Turned into a Page-Turner
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story is a detailed account of why there’s something rather nothing in our world. Author Jim Holt combines his saucy erudition with accounts of his travels to tap the minds of cosmologists, theologians, particle physicists, philosophers, mystics and others.
Holt lays bare the thinking of everyone from Socrates, Plato, Heidegger, and Leibniz, to Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. Along the way, he hashes through intriguing arguments about quantum physics and string theory. He walks away from most of his interviews muttering about the logical defect in this approach or that one.
In the course of Holt’s narrative, he spends time with his mother during her final days and witnesses her passing. He mentions his younger brother died a few years earlier, “at a party after taking too much cocaine.” As if this isn’t enough, Holt’s beloved dog suddenly becomes ill, and he sits and holds him for 10 days. The dog, too, expires. Holt doesn’t linger long over any of these events.
Holt’s intimacy with mortality lends heft and emotion to one of his fundamental questions: whether the universe, like life, is anything more than a short interlude between two vast nothings. Holt ventures guesses about this puzzle, but his propositions tend to be darkly humorous, in a Woody Allen sort of way.
Throughout his adventure, traveling from one geographical location across Europe and the US to another, Holt presents mouth-watering accounts of his meals, like this one: “At the table I ordered monkfish and heritage pork and heirloom beets, and I drank a delicious bottle of a locally produced Cabernet Franc.”
As the book draws to a close, one gets the distinct feeling that Holt seems to be enjoying himself on earth, and is in no rush to nail every mystery to the wall. “There is nothing I dislike more,” he says, “than premature intellectual closure.”
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
The book was a New York Times Bestseller and a National Book Critics Award finalist for nonfiction in 2012.
Jim Holt has contributed to The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, and Slate.
Holt hosted a weekly radio spot on BBC Wales called “Living in America, with Jim Holt” for ten years. He has appeared on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, NBC News with Tom Brokaw, and CNN. In 1997, he was editor of The New Leader, a political magazine. He lives in Greenwich Village, NY.
Books by Jim Holt include:
- Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes
- Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story