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When Amanda Gefter asked the cosmologist Kip Thorne to explain John Wheeler's ideas on the universe and physical reality, Thorne was dismissive. "I think we [physicists] are less in a position to probe those issues than philosophers are…I steer clear of asking what is ultimate reality." But Gefter was not to be dissuaded. Her quest to understand what physics has to say about that "ultimate reality" is the subject of her book Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn and, on balance, I think she makes a good job of it. I certainly felt that I learned something, even though the book, like the quest itself, has some ups and downs along the way.

Gefter's story begins when she is in high school. Disillusioned by her science classes, she is encouraged by her father to tackle the more "philosophical" ideas within physics – ideas about cosmology, gravity and quantum mechanics, as well as classic questions such as "What is nothing?" and "Where did the universe come from?" Gradually, Gefter and her father begin delving into physics together, seeking the answers to the universe more or less as a hobby. And while she goes on to study philosophy and creative writing (rather than science) at university, she later becomes a science writer as a pretext for continuing her quest – a quest in which she slowly realizes that the universe is far less "real" than we could ever imagine.

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