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A Many-Colored Glass

Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe
Freeman J. Dyson

BUY Paper · 176 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813929736 · $14.95 · Feb 2010
BUY Ebook · 176 pp. · ISBN 9780813931432 · $14.95 · Feb 2010

Freeman Dyson’s latest book does not attempt to bring together all of the celebrated physicist’s thoughts on science and technology into a unified theory. The emphasis is, instead, on the myriad ways in which the universe presents itself to us--and how, as observers and participants in its processes, we respond to it. "Life, like a dome of many-colored glass," wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley, "stains the white radiance of eternity." The author seeks here to explore the variety that gives life its beauty.

Taken from Dyson’s recent public lectures--delivered to audiences with no specialized knowledge in hard sciences--the book begins with a consideration of the practical and political questions surrounding biotechnology. As he seeks how best to explain the place of life in the universe, Dyson then moves from the ethical to the purely scientific. The book concludes with an attempt to understand the implications of biology for philosophy and religion.

The pieces in this collection touch on numerous disciplines, from astronomy and ecology to neurology and theology, speaking to the lay reader as well as to the scientist. As always, Dyson’s view of human nature and behavior is balanced, and his predictions of a world to come serve primarily as a means for thinking about the world as it is today.


Dyson, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, is no lightweight. Although personally humble, he has made fundamental contributions to quantum physics and mathematics. His scientific status and his pacifist views have made him a darling of left-wing opinion outlets like The New York Times. But in these books, Dyson demonstrates that his ability to think critically and skeptically and his commitment to the truth often outweighs his politics...Dyson's great strength, whether he realizes it or not, is his ability to find problems we didn't think of, and imagine outlandish and sometimes impractical solutions...His powerful imagination sees the world as a spectacular explosion of irreducible phenomena.

T.J. Nelson,

About the Author(s): 

Freeman J. Dyson, Professor Emeritus of Physics from the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University, is a member of the national Academy of Sciences and fellow of the Royal Society of London. His books include Infinite in All Directions, Origins of Life, and The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet.

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