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On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

  • A personal statement of belief from renowned author Peter Atkins about the ability of science
  • Each chapter explores a grand theme, such as Origins or Death, to show what science has revealed about the topic
  • Written with wit, irony, elegance, and a rigorous exposition of science
  • Explores issues such as the significance of evolution, our personal origins, the physiology of death, and the far ends of the Universe

By: Peter Atkins(Author)

111 pages, no illustrations

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Jan 2017 | #200037 | ISBN-13: 9780199660544
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £8.99 $11/€10 approx
Hardback | Mar 2011 | #200036 | ISBN-13: 9780199603367
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £10.99 $14/€12 approx

About this book

In this scientific 'Credo', Peter Atkins considers the universal questions of origins, endings, birth, and death to which religions have claimed answers. With his usual economy, wit, and elegance, unswerving before awkward realities, Atkins presents what science has to say. While acknowledging the comfort some find in belief, he declares his own faith in science's capacity to reveal the deepest truths.

"a paean to science"
– Times Literary Supplement

"genuine enjoyment"
– Times Higher Education Supplement

"Peter Atkins answers [...] succinctly and elegantly."
– Nature

"An effortless read – a real page turner."
BBC Focus

"Few can match the chiseled beauty of Peter Atkins's prose as he reflects on the nature of life and death, of beginnings and endings."
– Richard Dawkins

"A delight to read. Who else can cover the grand sweep of existence with such clarity and wit as Peter Atkins? The text sparkles with lively metaphors and arresting insights."
– Paul Davies

"Crisp with good sense, clear with scientific knowledge effortlessly imparted, and delicious with the sort of wit that makes you stop and put the book down just to enjoy it the more fully. It presents a vision of life and death, of matter and space and time that is honest and consistent and miracle-free."
– Philip Pullman



1. Creation
2. Evolution
3. Birth
4. Death
5. Ending


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Peter Atkins is Fellow of Lincoln College, University of Oxford. He is the author of almost 60 books, which include the world-renowned textbook Physical Chemistry (published in its ninth edition in November 2009). His other textbooks include Inorganic Chemistry: Chemical Principles and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. He has also written a number of books for a general readership, including Galileo's finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, The Periodic Kingdom, Molecules, and The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction. He has been a visiting professor in France, Israel, New Zealand, and China, and continues to lecture widely throughout the world.

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