Fire in the Mind
by George Johnson

Reviewed by Stephen Jay Gould in The New York Times and by Roger Lewin in The Los Angeles Times Book Review.

Johnson exploits the cultural diversity of northern New Mexico to give his book a rich and engaging texture. He is respectful of all of the local ways of carving up the world, and takes something away from each of them. . . . I was frequently struck by fresh and luminous insights. . . . George Johnson's objective and sympathetic discussion of this clash of cultures takes us to the heart of a profound intellectual issue of our time. Chet Raymo, Commonweal

Johnson is masterful at explaining complicated ideas and fitting them into the framework of modern science. . . . The search for the laws that rule the universe, especially as Johnson has documented them here in his descriptions of the work being done in New Mexico, is undeniably fascinating. Jill Sapinsley Mooney, San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

An invigorating and original examination of the interface between faith and science. . . . Articulate and vivid. . . . seductively reasoned. Donna Seaman, Hungry Mind Review

Johnson's explanations are clear and thought-provoking, and much of what he reports will be new to even well-informed readers. . . . An intellectual and cultural journey through the landscape of northern New Mexico. . . . [An] excellent book. David K. Nartonis, The Christian Science Monitor

Johnson, science writer for the New York Times and author of In the Palaces of Memory (1991), excels at making esoteric scientific theories comprehensible, a feat he elevates to new heights in this invigorating analysis of the interface between faith and science. Johnson uses the glorious and fabled landscape of New Mexico, his home state, as a template for his eloquent and probing discussion of how our hunger for order in a seemingly arbitrary world is at the heart of religion, cosmology, and quantum physics. New Mexico is the perfect setting for this explication because such diverse peoples as the Tewa Indians and the Hermanos Penitentes consider it holy, and the physicists at Los Alamos value it as a place where secrets can be kept and risks taken. As Johnson explains each group's belief system (drawing some unexpected and gratifying connections), we see that faith plays as great a role in physics as it does in religion. People in each tradition believe they're revealing preexisting truths, but Johnson suggests that spirituality and theoretical science are actually "conceptual lenses," beautiful abstractions our imaginative and pattern-oriented minds construct in pursuit of meaning. Booklist

"Is the emergence of organized complexity a fluke or part of a lawlike trend? A battle is raging between Darwinian traditionalists and an iconoclastic alliance of computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists and heretical biologists. George Johnson's masterly account of this battle provides some of the best science-writing I have come across in a long time. Here is a topic of immense scientific and philosophical significance, treated in a careful and even-handed manner, yet fast-paced and thrilling. A must for all those seriously interested in the key ideas at the frontiers of scientific discourse." Paul Davies

How to order a copy.

Return to main page