The Great Unknown

Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science

Publisher: Viking
“Brilliant and fascinating. No one is better at making the recondite accessible and exciting.” —Bill Bryson

A captivating journey to the outer reaches of human knowledge

Ever since the dawn of civilization we have been driven by a desire to know--to understand the physical world and the laws of nature. But are there limits to human knowledge? Are some things beyond the predictive powers of science, or are those challenges simply the next big discovery waiting to happen?
Marcus du Sautoy takes us into the minds of science's greatest innovators and reminds us that major breakthroughs were often ridiculed at the time of their discovery. Then he carries us on a whirlwind tour of seven "Edges" of knowledge - inviting us to consider the problems in quantum physics, cosmology, probability and neuroscience that continue to bedevil scientists who are at the front of their fields. He grounds his personal exploration of some of science's thorniest questions in simple concepts like the roll of dice, the notes of a cello, or how a clock measures time. 

Exhilarating, mind-bending, and compulsively readable, The Great Unknown challenges us to think in new ways about every aspect of the known world as it invites us to consider big questions - about who we are and the nature of God - that no one has yet managed to answer definitively.


“The significant advances in scientific knowledge over the past century have proved not only that there are profound mysteries yet to be solved, but that we might never solve them . . . . The Great Unknown  is an intriguing bird’s-eye view of the landscape of unknowability.”
--The Wall Street Journal

“The book reviews some of the great puzzles challenging science in chaos theory, quantum mechanics, cosmology, the nature of time, the origins of human consciousness and the limits of the universe… an absorbing entry into the genre of ‘what science hasn’t figured out yet’”

“A fascinating book on the limits of scientific knowledge.”—The Economist 

“Against the infinity of the knowable, is there a fundamental finitude to our capacity for knowing? That’s what Marcus du Sautoy explores with intelligent and imaginative zest in The Great Unknown—an inquiry into the puzzlement and promise of seven such unknowns . . . thoroughly fascinating.”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

“Brilliant and fascinating. No one is better at making the recondite accessible and exciting.”
Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Nearly Everything

“[Some] believe we have had enough of experts, but what we really need is the right sort of experts—ones who can explain tricky concepts without coming across as know-it-alls. Step forward Marcus du Sautoy, who devotes an entire book to what we cannot know, from predicting a simple dice roll to the vagaries of quantum mechanics.”—Sunday Times

The Great Unknown is an engaging, personal, and highly user-friendly voyage into some of the great mysteries and wonders of our world."
--Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dream and The Accidental Universe

“A delicious addition to the ‘Big Question’ genre.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) 
“This brilliant, well-written exploration of our universes’ biggest mysteries will captivate the curious and leave them pondering ‘natural phenomena that will never be tamed and known.”
Publishers Weekly
(Starred Review)
“Admirably compact and conversational for such wide-ranging subject matter . . . Those eager to have their minds stretched will find this a rewarding and stimulating experience.”

“I felt I was being carried off on a wonderful journey, a thrilling research expedition to the teasing and mysterious boundaries of scientific knowledge, and I never wanted to turn back. Du Sautoy is a masterful and friendly guide to these remotest regions…It is absolutely fascinating throughout, and I really loved it.”—Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder
"I admire and envy the clarity and authority with which Marcus du Sautoy addresses a range of profound issues. His book deserves a wide readership." 
--Martin Rees, author of Before the Beginning 

"There is no better guide than Marcus du Sautoy to provide a panoramic view of the boundaries of knowledge.” 
--Robbert Dijkgraaf, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
“The prominent mathematician, writer and broadcaster boldly squares up to what he calls the seven “edges” of human knowledge, topics that range from the nature of time to the mysteries of human consciousness... His take is refreshing, not least because along his journey he exposes with humility his own confusions, apprehensions and concerns. And there is plenty to be both baffled and enlightened about. Does a multiverse exist? Are leptons and quarks where the subatomic buck stops? And is an infinite set of even numbers bigger than an infinite set that also includes odd ones?”The Observer
“Each spiralling investigation begins with an object: casino dice kick-start a foray into probability; a wristwatch propels us into grappling with time. A dazzling journey, vivified by conversations with the likes of neuroscientist Christof Koch on psychophysics and cosmologist Max Tegmark on the mathematical Universe.”—Nature
“He has a gift for making the most abstruse concepts understandable. You’ll feel smarter with every page.”—Mail On Sunday

“Du Sautoy makes a lucid and beguiling companion as he guides us along the byways of contemporary science.” —The Guardian