Summer Reading:

One of the books I've been spending some time with, the past week or so (on a recommendation from my daughter - thanks, Sarah!), is Brian Greene's truly magnificent "The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality." It's a kind of summary snapshot of the state of modern physics, very much intended for the non-specialist, and it's been, for me, something of a revelatory experience. I've never read anything that does nearly as good a job explaining the truly extraordinary and bizarre rules that, apparently, govern our universe. Greene does a spectacular job explaining, using really well-chosen and well-thought out (and incredibly simple) examples, the fundamental ideas underlying special and general relativity, the profound differences between the Einsteinian view of the universe and the quantum mechanical view of the universe, the reason why "string theory" might actually better explain the nature of things, and the like. And he's appropriately awe-struck at how un-real reality seems to be. I had thought I understood (at least in a non-technical way) the idea behind Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: that you could not simultaneously measure both a particle's velocity and its position, that measuring one of them necessarily meant you could not obtain information about the other. Pretty weird, but not nearly as weird as the actual version of the Principle, which I now, thanks to Greene, have a glimpse of: that particles don't have any "position" or "velocity" until you attempt to measure the one or the other. That, friends, is a very strange universe to live in.
In any event, if you're interested in any of this stuff and don't feel you really have a grasp of what the physicists are all arguing about, I can't recommend Greene's book highly enough.