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Basic Books
  • Hardcover
  • $29.99 / $34.50 CAN
  • ISBN 13: 978-0-465-03171-9
"Gleiser has a gift for telling a story grandly and clearly. His history is nothing if not thorough, beginning in early superstition and mythology and methodically working up to current scientific questions in cosmology and physics. Along the way, he touches on everything from philosophy to optics to artificial intelligence."

"Partway between Hannah Arendt's timeless manifesto for the unanswerable questions at the heart of meaning and Stuart Firestein's case for how not-knowing drives science, Gleiser explores our commitment to knowledge and our parallel flirtation with the mystery of the unknown. What emerges is at once a celebration of human achievement and a gentle reminder that the appropriate reaction to scientific and technological progress is not arrogance over the knowledge conquered, which seems to be our civilizational modus operandi, but humility in the face of what remains to be known and, perhaps above all, what may always remain unknowable.... The Island of Knowledge is an illuminating read in its totality."
Brain Pickings

"[Gleiser] is a gifted writer."
Physics Today

"[Gleiser's] discussions of cosmology and multiple universes are compelling.... [The Island of Knowledge] probe[s] deep into one of the most difficult intellectual problems on the human agenda.... [A] thorough and clear guide to the philosophical problems posed by the nature of the subatomic world."
Washington Post

The Island of Knowledge

The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning

By Marcelo Gleiser

Why discovering the limits to science may be the most powerful discovery of all

Do all questions have answers? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth?

To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what's "out there." In The Island of Knowledge, physicist Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited.

These limits to our knowledge arise both from our tools of exploration and from the nature of physical reality: the speed of light, the uncertainty principle, the impossibility of seeing beyond the cosmic horizon, the incompleteness theorem, and our own limitations as an intelligent species. Recognizing limits in this way, Gleiser argues, is not a deterrent to progress or a surrendering to religion. Rather, it frees us to question the meaning and nature of the universe while affirming the central role of life and ourselves in it. Science can and must go on, but recognizing its limits reveals its true mission: to know the universe is to know ourselves.

Telling the dramatic story of our quest for understanding, The Island of Knowledge offers a highly original exploration of the ideas of some of the greatest thinkers in history, from Plato to Einstein, and how they affect us today. An authoritative, broad-ranging intellectual history of our search for knowledge and meaning, The Island of Knowledge is a unique view of what it means to be human in a universe filled with mystery.

Marcelo Gleiser is Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He has published numerous popular works, including an essay, "Emergent Realities in the Cosmos," which was featured in 2003's Best American Science Writing, and three previous books: The Dancing Universe, The Prophet and the Astronomer, and A Tear at the Edge of Creation.

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