Book Review by Roy E. Perry – “Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything” by Amanda Gefter


Editor’s Note: Roy E. Perry wrote book reviews for “The Tennessean” and “Nashville Banner” for more than thirty years. “Underground Nashville” is always proud to present Mr. Perry’s latest book review for our readers.

In Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, Amanda Gefter has written a wise and witty narrative of the current state of theoretical physics and cosmology, the latter being “the branch of philosophy dealing with the origin and general structure of the universe, with its parts, elements, and especially of its characteristics as space, time, causality, and freedom; the branch of astronomy that deals with the general structure and evolution of the universe.”

The basic problem explored by Ms. Geftner’s narrative is the conceptual gulf between Einstein’s general theory of relativity (which he later regretted not calling his “general theory of invariance”) and quantum mechanics. The “holy grail” for physics would be to find a synthesis (reconciliation) of these two theories—a viable theory of quantum gravity. The thorny question is: Does ultimate reality demand invariance, that is, is the universe observer-independent? Does the universe exist prior to, and apart from, anyone observing it?

Here’s where “weird” gets “weirder than weird.” According to quantum mechanics, time, space, and—yes, even the universe itself—are relative to the observer’s perspective; in other words, ultimate reality is radically observer-dependent. Each person’s universe is different from any every other person’s universe, an astonishing claim reminiscent of the position articulated by 18th-century Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley, who asserted “To be is to be perceived”—a subjective idealism haunted by the specter of solipsism.

The heart and soul of Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn are the interviews and correspondences conducted by Ms. Geftner with some of today’s most brilliant theoretical physicists, including Stephen Hawking, Joseph Wheeler, and David Gross (among numerous others).

The author writes: “I was fifteen at the time, and my father had taken me out for dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant . . . . I was pushing a cashew around my plate with a chopstick when [my father] looked at me intently and asked, ‘How would you define nothing?’“ “How would you define nothing?” Thus began the author’s all-consuming hunt for ultimate reality, as explored in this book. Along the way, Ms. Gefter earns her credentials in spades, proving herself a gifted science writer who often explains physicists’ ideas better than they do. By all means, read this engaging, intelligent, and funny book, and learn about the weird, bizarre world of quantum mechanics.


Amanda Gefter is a writer specializing in fundamental physics and cosmology and a consultant for New Scientist magazine. She previously served as books and arts editor for New Scientist magazine, and founded “CultureLab,” New Scientist’s books and arts blog. This is her first book.

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer. ************

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit: ***********

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit (link below) and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you. ***********

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.” Dave Carew



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