When We Cease to Understand the World

Written by:
Benjamin Labatut
Narrated by:
Adam Barr

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
September 2021
5 hours 40 minutes
When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction. Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of the luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the listener, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear. At a breakneck pace and with a wealth of disturbing detail, Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to tell the stories of the scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.
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Philip H.

Creativity, whether art, math, or new scientific concepts, are generally met with negativity, denial, bullying, and fear. No wonder the subjects of this story lived such belittling experiences that required great mental strength and focus and extreme confidence in their concepts. Hard to believe, and yet so obvious, that people with such extraordinary intelligence would have a difficult time adapting to the norm. I didnt know what to expect from this book or what it would be about. Seems the moral of this book is to be more tolerant and open-minded to extreme opinions and comments and to use your critical.thinking skills to understand such people rather than ignoring or castigating them because they appear different. This book isnt for everyone, but I enjoyed the history and lessons provided.

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What. The. Hell. Interesting at first but then halfway through all it could talk about was people masturbating, sh*tting on the ground and p*ssing on people

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Tina M.

Started out interesting, but imploded into hedonistic nonsense.

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It's an interesting idea, I suppose. Not only are we limited in what we can understand about the world, but we are limited in what we *should* understand about the world. Labatut gets to this idea mostly by oversimplifying the science or making up elaborate dream sequences pertaining to moments of discovery. These almost invariably feature a variety of bodily functions. The effect is startling, at first, but it quickly becomes offputting and then rather predictable. The final chapter abandons historical inspiration entirely and becomes a rather ham-handed allegory. Overall you'd do better reading biography of Grothendieck, Schrodinger and Heisenberg, who are genuinely interesting figures even if we don't imagine they hallucinated masturbating mystics shortly before revolutionizing their fields.

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William E.

A sometimes confusing investigation into genius at work, oftentimes in conflict with others' inspired work. It probably requires a second reading just to sort through the confusion created by the first. Fascinating always, frustrating at times.

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This book is a guided descent into madness.

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Whit Jensen

Fascinating listen. Narrator kept it very interesting. The way the author weaves historical figures and events together makes you give pause. How is it that I know about this person but not that person? How is it I know about this phenomenon but not not one? Highly recommend this book.

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The writing was alternately illuminating in historical and biographical detail and then would suddenly descend into hypothetical, self-indulgent insanity. I learned a lot and wondered a lot. The narrator did an extraordinary job with some difficult material. I enjoyed his voice, cadence and tolerance of the subject matter.

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Wasn't what I expected.

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Aleksandr D.

What a wonderful and intelligent book! It shows how unpredictable our discoveries could be.

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