From neurons to nanotech and from quarks to the cosmos, BookLab is the podcast that puts science books under the microscope! Join hosts Dan Falk and Amanda Gefter for a look at the latest in popular science writing: what’s new, what’s hot, and what you ought to be reading right now.

It’s one of the oldest and most vexing questions in science and philosophy: Do we have free will? In this episode of BookLab, we take a close look at two books by two scientists who have considered the question at length -- and have been led to two very different conclusions.

Direct download: BookLab_034.mp3
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The human mind is quite something. We can use it to reason; to envision past and future events; to ponder abstractions. But what other minds are out there? In Philip Ball’s The Book of Minds, we’re invited to explore the space of possible minds.

And on the nightstand: The Darkness Manifesto, by  Johan Eklöf; and Existential Physics by Sabine Hossenfelder. 

Direct download: BookLab_033.mp3
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The world around us seems incredibly diverse -- but what if beneath that diversity there was a unifying sameness? That’s the idea behind “monism” -- an ancient idea that physicist Heinrich Pas believes is due for a comeback. He explores the idea in his new book, The One.

And on the nightstand: Sounds Wild and Broken, by David George Haskell; and What We Owe the Future, by William MacAskill.

Direct download: BookLab_032.mp3
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Virtual reality has taken off in recent years. But what if the virtual worlds of VR are real -- just as real, perhaps, as the physical world we see around us? And... is it possible we’re living in a simulation right now? Philosopher David Chalmers probes these questions in his provocative new book, Reality+.

And on the nightstand: A new biography of physicist Freeman Dyson, called Well, Doc, You’re In, edited by David Kaiser; and As Gods, by Matthew Cobb.

Direct download: BookLab_031.mp3
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Featured book: Being You, by Anil Seth.

A lot has been written on the subject of consciousness, but few are positioned to tackle the problem better than neuroscientist Anil Seth, whose new book examines how we experience “life in the first person.”

And on the nightstand: The Monster’s Bones, by David K. Randall; and Quantum Legacies, by David Kaiser.

Direct download: BookLab_030.mp3
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Featured book: Hawking Hawking, by Charles Seife.

Charles Seife’s new biography of Stephen Hawking takes an unflinching look at the good and bad sides of the famous physicist.

And on the nightstand: The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Arik Kershenbaum; and When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut.

Direct download: BookLab_029.mp3
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What is life? As Carl Zimmer shows in Life’s Edge, the more we try to pin it down, the more elusive an answer becomes. And in The Genesis Quest, Michael Marshall examines the age-old puzzle of how life began on our planet.

Direct download: BookLab_028.mp3
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Featured Book: Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain, by Lisa Feldman Barrett.

Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett take a deep dive into our most remarkable organ – and explains why the brain is for much more than just thinking.

And on the nightstand: Why Fish Don’t Exist, by Lulu Miller; and The Precipice, by Toby Ord.

Direct download: BookLab_027.mp3
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We double up on the physics in this episode: First, Katie Mack looks at the universe’s end-game in The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking). Then we explore the universe’s most exotic objects in Janna Levin’s new book, Black Hole Survival Guide.

Direct download: BookLab_026.mp3
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In this special episode of BookLab, we focus on COVID-19 by journalist Debora MacKenzie. Her book examines how this pandemic happened, how it might have been prevented – or at least mitigated – and what can be done to make sure a similar catastrophic public health crisis doesn’t happen again.
Direct download: BookLab_025.mp3
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Featured book: Until the End of Time, by Brian Greene.

Where exactly do human beings fit in, in this vast cosmos?  Brian Greene tackles the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything in an ambitious new book.

And on the nightstand: Superior, by Angela Saini; and Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene

Direct download: BookLab_024.mp3
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Featured book: The Feeling of Life Itself, by Christof Koch.

A neuroscientist who’s spent decades studying the puzzle of consciousness explores the problem of how the brain gives rise to the mind.

And on the nightstand: Supernavigators, by David Barrie; and The Math of Life and Death, by Kit Yates.

Direct download: BookLab_023.mp3
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It’s one of the most provocative ideas in all of science – the notion that our universe might just an infinitesimal part of a much larger reality.  In this episode, we look at two new books that take us deep into the multiverse: The Number of the Heavens, by Tom Siegfried; and Something Deeply Hidden, by Sean Carroll.

Direct download: BookLab_022.mp3
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Featured book: The Goodness Paradox, by Richard Wrangham. 

Our species, Homo sapiens, is less violent than any of our primate cousins -- but how did we get that way? A Harvard anthropologist suggests an answer.

And on the nightstand: The Overstory, by Richard Powers; and The Trouble with Gravity, by Richard Panek.

Direct download: BookLab_021.mp3
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Featured Books:What is Real? by Adam Becker; and Beyond Weird by Philip Ball.

Quantum physics has been with us for more than 100 years – but what is it actually telling us about the world?

Direct download: BookLab_020.mp3
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Featured Book: Adventures in Memory, by Hilde Østby and Ylva Østby


Few things are as fundamental to the human experience as memory. But what exactly is memory?  How do memories actually work, in our brains? And why did we evolve to have memories? 

And on the nightstand: Outside Color, by Mazviita Chirimuuta; and The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wulf 

Direct download: BookLab_019.mp3
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Featured Book:Lost in Math, by Sabine Hossenfelder

Physics made enormous progress in the 20th century – but Sabine Hossenfelder says we’ve reached a dead-end in the 21st, because today’s physicists take their equations too seriously.

And on the nightstand: Through Two Doors at Once, by Anil Ananthaswamy; and The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli. 

Direct download: BookLab_018.mp3
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Featured Book:The Strange Order of Things, by Antonio Damasio

How did emotions and feelings – and conscious awareness in general – come into existence? Neuroscientist and philosopher Antonio Damasio weighs in.

And on the nightstand: Internal Time, by Till Roenneberg; and The Last Man Who Knew Everything, by David Schwartz.

Direct download: BookLab_017.mp3
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Stephen Hawking’s first book aimed at a popular audience, A Brief History of Time, became a surprise bestseller and turned the world of popular science writing upside down. We look back at this remarkable book, 30 years after its publication.

Direct download: BookLab_016.mp3
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Featured Book: Life 3.0, by Max Tegmark

Artificial intelligence is set to change the world. Will humanity have what it takes to survive, in the age of intelligent machines? 

And on the nightstand: Prehension, by Colin McGinn; and The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson.

Direct download: BookLab_015.mp3
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Featured Book: The Big Picture, by Sean Carroll.

Do our lives have any significance in a universe of impersonal particles and forces and physical laws? That’s a big question – but a physicist with an eye on the big picture takes a shot at answering them.

And on the nightstand: You Belong to the Universe, by Jonathon Keats; and Time Travel, by James Gleick.

Direct download: BookLab_014.mp3
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Featured Book: The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

The gene shapes who we are. While the science of genetics is still fairly young, it’s advancing at a breakneck speed. What will we do with this new knowledge? 

And on the nightstand: Surfing Uncertainty, by Andy Clark; and Black Hole Blues, by Janna Levin.

Direct download: BookLab_013.mp3
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Featured Book: Spooky Action at a Distance, by George Musser.

Quantum entanglement is one of the strangest ideas in modern physics – and could end up changing the way we think about space and time.

And on the nightstand: Why Information Grows, by César Hidalgo; and Inventology, by Pagan Kennedy.

Direct download: BookLab_012.mp3
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Featured Book: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, by Lisa Randall.

A physicist puts forward a bold idea about how the dinosaurs met their demise – and the role that an exotic kind of matter may have played.

And on the nightstand:  The Brain, by David Eagleman; and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli.

Direct download: BookLab_011.mp3
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Featured Books: Ada’s Algorithm, by James Essinger; and It Began with Babbage, by Subrata Dasgupta.

Two new books look at the history of the computer – the invention that would usher in the modern age.

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Two new books look at the history of our species, the rise of science, and how one puny primate conquered the planet: The Upright Thinkers, by Leonard Mlodinov; and Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.

Direct download: BookLab_009.mp3
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Featured Book: The Patient Will See You Now, by Eric Topol.

Eric Topol says medicine itself has been sick for years – but he’s confident that we can use digital technology to improve the health care system.

And on the nightstand:  On the Move, by Oliver Sacks; and The Clockwork Universe, by Edward Dolnick.

Direct download: BookLab_008.mp3
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Featured Book: Mind Change, by Susan Greenfield.

Digital technology is all around us, and there’s more of it every day. It’s changing the way we live our lives – and neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says it’s also affecting our brains.

And on the nightstand: Invisible, by Philip Ball; and Unflattening, by Nick Sousanis.

Direct download: BookLab_007.mp3
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Featured Book: The Island of Knowledge, by Marcelo Gleiser.

Are there limits to what science can discover? Marcelo Gleiser says that no matter how far science progresses, there’s always something that’s unknowable.

And on the nightstand:  Orfeo, by Richard Powers; and Why Does the World Exist? By Jim Holt.

Direct download: BookLab_006.mp3
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Featured Book:  The Human Age, by Diane Ackerman.

Human beings have completely transformed the planet, and even greater changes lie ahead.  According to Diane Ackerman, we must now harness human creativity and create the world we want to live in.

And on the nightstand:  The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris; and Eureka! By Chad Orzel.

Direct download: BookLab_005.mp3
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Featured Book:  Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom.

Within a few decades, our computers could be smarter than we are.  According to Nick Bostrom, we should be afraid of where Artificial Intelligence may lead us.

And on the nightstand:  Our Final Hour, by Martin Rees; and Tubes, by Andrew Blum.

Direct download: BookLab_004.mp3
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Featured Book:  Colliding Worlds, by Arthur I. Miller.

The art-science connection:  Over the last 50 years, the world of modern art has been completely transformed, Arthur I. Miller argues, because of the influence that modern science has had on art and artists.

And on the nightstand:  Logicomix, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou; and Only the Longest Threads, by Tasneem Zehra Husain.

Direct download: BookLab_003.mp3
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Featured Book:  Consciousness and the Brain, by Stanislas Deheane.

Stanislas Deheane tackles the problem of consciousness, and tells us how his own research is helping to explain how that three-and-a-half pound lump of squishy gray mater inside your head does what it does.

And on the nightstand:  Time Reborn, by Lee Smolin; and The Idea Factory, by Jon Gertner.

Direct download: BookLab_002.mp3
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Featured Book:  Our Mathematical Universe, by Max Tegmark.

How many universes are there, anyway?  Physicist Max Tegmark says there could be an infinite number of them, and he argues the case in his latest book.

And on the nightstand:  A Universe from Nothing, by Lawrence Krauss; and Me Myself and Why, by Jennifer Oullette.

Direct download: BookLab_001.mp3
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