As a boy growing up on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Gleiser had a passion for fishing. Years later, a world-famous theoretical physicist with hundreds of scientific articles and several books of popular science to his credit, he felt it was time to connect with nature again in less theoretical ways. After watching a fly-fishing class on the Dartmouth College Green, he decided to learn to fly-fish—a hobby, he says, that teaches humility.

In The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected, Marcelo describes how he travels the world to attend scientific conferences, fishing wherever he goes. At each stop, he ponders the myriad ways in which physics informs the act of fishing; considers how fishing in its turn serves as a lens into nature’s inner workings; and explains how science engages with questions of meaning and spirituality, inspiring a sense of awe in the face of the not yet-known.

Personal and engaging, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected is a scientist’s tribute to nature, an affirmation of humanity’s deep connection with and debt to Earth, and an exploration of the meaning of existence, from atom to trout to cosmos.


What People Are Saying About The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected:

“The fly-fishing is naively beautiful. The physics is just beautiful. But the conclusion to the journey of a man so engaged by both—the epiphany—is magnificent and should be shared by us all.”
Jeremy Lucas, European Open flyfishing champion, author of The Last Salmon

“An elegantly written, introspective, and thought-provoking meditation on growing up as someone curious about the universe. It’s a wonderful introduction to the human side of science and the scientific side of being human.”
Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself

“Whether teasing apart the known, the unknown, and the unknowable in science, or immersing us in the natural world of Brazil or Iceland, Marcelo Gleiser’s words sing on the page. You don’t have to fish or seek out spiritual experiences to love this book.”
Barbara King, author of How Animals Grieve

“With wit, charm, humor, and passion, Gleiser pulls off that rarest of catches—connecting the most fundamental and sublime aspects of science with the most intimate and ordinary experience of fishing.”
Adam Frank, NPR commentator


Humans have worked to understand and explain the universe for millennia, but Marcelo says we’ll never know it all—and proceeds to explain why. We are driven “to make sense of the world” and our place in it, and advances in mathematics and technology, from geometry and lenses to calculus and computers, have expanded our reach, revealing details of the very small and the very large. But as that “island of knowledge” grows, Marcelo says, “so do the shores of our ignorance.” From Copernicus’s proof that the Earth orbited the Sun to Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation and motion, and quantum theory’s uncertainty principle, solutions that solved major problems also made many uncomfortable because they revealed deeper mysteries, showing “the true vastness of space and time.” Marcelo covers a broad swath of subjects—from cognition and curved space to particle physics, superstring theory, and multiverses—with a thoughtful, accessible style that balances philosophy with hard science. His island imagery will capture readers’ imagination as it examines the ideas that unnerve us even as they illuminate our world.


What People Are Saying About The Island of Knowledge:

“We've come to know far more than our ancestors could possibly have imagined—including the depth of our ignorance. In Gleiser's lucid narrative, that marvelous paradox comes alive.”

— Frank Wilczek, Nobel laureate and author of The Lightness of Being


“Marcelo Gleiser brings a physicist's knowledge, a philosopher's wisdom, and a poet's language to elucidate our largest questions. If you finish The Island of Knowledge with all the same opinions with which you began it, then turn to page one and start reading again.”

— Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur Fellow and author of Plato at the Googleplex


“Articulate, elegant, and at times poignant, The Island of Knowledge is a magnificent account of humanity's struggle to understand its place in the cosmos.  ... Gleiser shows how our efforts to comprehend the universe have transformed it into something rich and strange.”

— Seth Lloyd, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and author of Programming the Universe

“Gleiser covers a broad swath of subjects—from cognition and curved space to particle physics, superstring theory, and multiverses—with a thoughtful, accessible style that balances philosophy with hard science. His island imagery will capture readers’ imagination as it examines the ideas that unnerve us even as they illuminate our world.”

— Publishers Weekly


The Island of Knowledge is a history of the mind, its gift for finding ideas in things. The brilliance of centuries of philosophic and scientific inquiry, never more remarkable than at present, bears a profound resemblance to the brilliance it discovers in the universe. Marcelo Gleiser makes us feel what a privilege it is to be human.”

— Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, and author of Gilead and Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self



Marcelo proposes a radical new way to think about the universe and our place in it. Instead of the traditional view that nature's secrets are encoded in a Final Theory, which is at the core of superstring theories and other searches for a unified description of nature, he argues that this age-long search for perfection is misguided; nature is imperfect and the perfection we seek is mostly a reflection of our deeply-ingrained beliefs in a monotheistic power. What we have learned during the past decades is that asymmetry and not symmetry is the creative force behind the emergence of structure, from the cosmos to matter to life itself. This new aesthetic of science has broad-ranging consequences: Marcelo shows that life—and in particular complex, intelligent life—is exceedingly rare. We may not be the only intelligent beings out there, but for all practical purposes we are alone. This makes us very important indeed. Marcelo proposes a "humanocentrism," whereby we take charge of our moral responsibility toward our planet and toward life in general.




The book is a transcultural examination of ideas about the end of the world. Starting with apocalyptic traditions in many religions and sects, Marcelo shows how such ideas entered science in the Renaissance and still remain there today. He discusses meteoritic and cometary bombardment on Earth's past and future; the end of the sun; the physics of black holes; and, of course, the end of the universe as a whole, from cutting-edge theories of cosmology and particle physics.




Where does the universe and everything in it come from? How do religion and science explain the riddle of creation? In this book, Marcelo covers some 25 centuries of intellectual history, focusing on the question of the origin of the universe from a religious, philosophical, and scientific perspective.