Paradox by Jim Al-Khalili

Jim Al-Khalili

Well what a little treat this book turned out to be!

Back in February when the honeyman took me birthday book shopping, I saw Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics on one of the displays and thought that it sounded interesting, so I grabbed it. And it was! So interesting, in fact, that I was reading the first chapter in the bath and didn’t notice the tub was overflowing. I finished the chapter and then noticed how high the water was, and then that it was halfway across the floor… yeah. Apparently I find brain teasers (which is really what the first chapter is about – The Riddle of the Missing Dollar, the Monty Hall Paradox, etc) REALLY engrossing.

The first chapter is some of the common brain puzzles (some would call them paradoxes) that people often try to figure out, and he solves them using either logic or some probability math. The rest of the book focuses on some of the most interesting and debated paradoxes in the scientific world. The author, Jim Al-Khalili, shows that these aren’t actually paradoxes at all – they can be explained using science and physics, and he patiently introduces and explains each one. You can read this without any background knowledge because he does take the time to give you the information you need to understand the solutions. Since I’ve been reading about physics for a little over a year now, I was proud that I already knew and understood four out of the nine he discusses. (And actually, the ninth is not paradoxical in the slightest, which kind of bothered me. It was more an idle musing, but still interesting to hear him discuss none the less, since it had to do with life elsewhere in the universe.)

So, if you’re wondering how a time traveller could go back in time to murder his own grandfather (Grandfather Paradox), how a cat could be both dead AND alive (Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox) or how a pole moving at a high speed could be shorter than if it were stationary (Pole in the Barn Paradox), you’ll enjoy reading through this. All of them are definitely possible and real, and it’s so fascinating.

The author did a really good job – he wrote in a way that speaks directly to the reader and has a sense of fun, whimsy, and passion for science that made reading this book really, really enjoyable. He wasn’t afraid to joke around, which made all of the difference. I’m looking forward to reading his other books.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars



    1. I think so. The probability math in the beginning I kind of glazed over – I got the general idea, but don’t really need or care about the specifics and that part was brief. The more science-y stuff throughout the rest was pretty thorough – he did a good job at explaining everything. If anything the hardest part is wrapping your head around some of the concepts, like how a cat could be both dead and alive (its kind of a metaphor for atoms) and how a twin could be 10 yrs older than a sibling if they travelled in space near the speed of light. That’s the fun part though, of course 🙂


      1. Yeah, well, I kind of already know all about Shroedinger’s cat because of The Big Bang Theory (thanks, Sheldon!). Okay, well not really, but I think that some of it could be interesting and cool to think about if it’s able to be explained in easy terms. Like the twin thing? Cool!


      2. I love that about TBBT, and I felt so cool when he talked about Schrodinger’s Cat and I had recently read a book about quantum physics so I knew what he was talking about! Lol nerd points.

        It was a fun read, if you’re ever in the mood for something like that. And it’s written so that you can read one chapter (paradox) at a time, even though they flow smoothly from one to the next.


      3. Ooooh I love when books are like that, because it’s nice to dive into a chapter, be able to put it down, and get back into it later.

        And. . . um. . . are you actually going to convince me to get this book on a topic that is sooooo not my norm? I think so. . .


  1. The overflowing bath paradox 🙂 But, I love good paradoxes and any kind of time twists, this seems like an interesting read. Reminded me of this short story by Heinlein By His Bootstraps, which is also based on time travel and paradox, and in the end you get like really confused who’s where and how can they be there when they were actually there and… if they were there… then… awesome stuff 🙂


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