Stefan Klein, the acclaimed writer behind The Science of Happiness and The Secret Pulse of Time, is on a mission to connect laypeople with the diverse and often misunderstood realm of science. With his latest book, We Are All Stardust, Klein sits down with some of the world’s most prominent scientists and asks them the questions that we want to ask, but possibly don’t feel like we have enough knowledge to do so. The result is pages and pages of casual conversation with people that, at first, seem so extraordinary that we will never understand them. Yet, Klein brings them back to Earth, and we learn that they are just like us; curious humans that are merely trying to navigate the complexities of life.
Klein has an impressive list of interviewees on his agenda, including the likes of Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall, Sarah Hrdy, and V.S. Ramachandran. While the premise of the book is a simple idea: sit down with these scientists and talk to them about their work and their lives, the resulting compilation provides a coherent overview of what the sciences look like today and how the discoveries of recent times affect us as individuals, members of society, and of a part of the broader community of inhabitants of the world.
As a layperson myself, and as someone who has never been able to grasp the great mysteries, equations, and complications of science itself, it was difficult to begin this book. I was unsure of how I would navigate the conversations about topics that I did not understand, and through this misunderstanding, I did not feel I cared about. What became evident early on, though, was that this wasn’t going to be an easy or a difficult read: it was merely going to be a read. Klein doesn’t try to make his conversations anything other than what they are. This put me at ease and I was better able to focus on the underlying task at hand; Klein’s hope to learn more about the personal lives of those who understand the lives of many.
Interviews that stood out for me included those of cosmologist Martin Rees, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, neuropharmacologist Walter Zieglgänsberger, and developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik. Why these scientists in particular struck a chord in me is obvious; each one spoke through the pages and into my mind and heart in a way that I didn’t think was possible with scientists. Their words were not only about scientific facts and evidence, but also about philosophical dilemmas, mental and physical illnesses, and about living a whole and unified existence.
It was not until I finished the book and closed the front cover did I realise the true impact of what We Are All Stardust had on me as a layperson, reader, reviewer, writer, and individual of this vast world. Although I had not sat down with each scientist myself, I had left the book with a greater understanding of why and how they do the work that they do, and with this, I had a greater appreciation for the sacrifices that they make day in and day out as scientists and great thinkers. They are the role models of today, yet they are human beings just like us and have flaws, dreams, desires, and inhibitions. The greatest discovery of all then, at least in this book, is that we are all in this together. Together we are all stardust.