Waxing Press

Book Review: How the Universe Got Its Spots by Janna Levin

Ian WissmanComment

Janna Levin’s How the Universe Got its Spots is probably one of the most unique pop-sci books I've ever read—Levin, a cosmologist who theorizes on the topology and geometry of the universe, and who advances the idea that the universe is finite, writes of the science behind relativity (general and special), black holes, string theory, and much more in the format of letters to her mother/a diary. The content of these entries vacillates seamlessly between reflections on her personal life, the histories of science and scientists, and a pretty decent primer on cosmological science in a ruminative and poetic fashion.

Levin's skill is especially pronounced in her ability to distill her own severe intellect and personal obsession with the subject matter into prose that is clever, literary, profound and also instills her same enthusiasm about science and progress down into the lay-reader.

While I've had a lot of exposure to these ideas and concepts in other books and in classes I took in college, never have topology or questions about the size/shape of the universe been so digestible to me as it has coming from Levin. Especially helpful to my understanding was her section on the shape of the universe and discussing how we can use metaphorical thinking in two-dimensional space to better comprehend, visualize, and understand the hypothetical shapes of a finite universe.

Further, I can't recommend enough her two hour PBS NOVA special from early 2018 on Black Holes called "Black Hole Apocalypse."