If you’re waiting for an apocalypse on December 21, 2012, you’re in for a big disappointment, says Keating. The physicist’s book aims to reassure people that the world is not going to end, educate them about why and entertain along the way. He succeeds on all fronts.
Keating pays homage to Galileo’s 1630s best seller Discourse on Two New Sciences with another three-way conversation between friends. Galileo’s book was a discussion about science between two philosophers and a layman that took place over about four days. Keating updates the format to an e-mail exchange among three friends: Tom, a scientist exasperated with doomsday prophesying; Fred, a regular guy who buys into the hype; and Aileen, a woman with a background in social science who is trying to keep an open mind. Keating’s characters seem so real that it may feel as if you’ve stumbled upon someone’s actual correspondence, but this is a made-up conversation that takes place over the course of the year. Spoiler alert: The last entry is in mid-December.
The friends tackle the supposed Mayan prediction of global disaster and theories about how the end could come, including a flood, supervolcano or being fried by the sun on an Earth with a weakened magnetic field. Along the way Keating furnishes history about how the date of destruction was chosen and who has furthered the idea. Readers get an introduction to the scientific method and learn to identify pseudoscience, but the lesson is more like eavesdropping on a stimulating discussion than listening to a lecture.
It’s not giving anything away to say that the friends resolve to meet at a favorite restaurant in New York City on December 22. Don’t worry. If the world ends, Tom will buy dinner for his buddies.
Dog Ear Publishing, 2011, 355 p., $18.50