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When We Cease to Understand the World
Cover of When We Cease to Understand the World
When We Cease to Understand the World
Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize
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SELECTED FOR BARACK OBAMA'S SUMMER READING LIST

'A monstrous and brilliant book' Philip Pullman
'Wholly mesmerising and revelatory... Completely fascinating' William Boyd
Sometimes discovery brings destruction

When We Cease to Understand the World shows us great minds striking out into dangerous, uncharted terrain.

Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger: these are among the luminaries into whose troubled lives we are thrust as they grapple with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, they alienate friends and lovers, they descend into isolated states of madness. Some of their discoveries revolutionise our world for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.

With breakneck pace and wondrous detail, Benjamín Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to break open the stories of scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.

SELECTED FOR BARACK OBAMA'S SUMMER READING LIST

'A monstrous and brilliant book' Philip Pullman
'Wholly mesmerising and revelatory... Completely fascinating' William Boyd
Sometimes discovery brings destruction

When We Cease to Understand the World shows us great minds striking out into dangerous, uncharted terrain.

Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger: these are among the luminaries into whose troubled lives we are thrust as they grapple with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, they alienate friends and lovers, they descend into isolated states of madness. Some of their discoveries revolutionise our world for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.

With breakneck pace and wondrous detail, Benjamín Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to break open the stories of scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Benjamín Labatut was born in Rotterdam in 1980 and grew up in The Hague, Buenos Aires and Lima. He has published two award-winning works of fiction prior to When We Cease to Understand the World, which is his first book to be translated into English. Labatut lives with his family in Santiago, Chile.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 12, 2021
    Reading like an episodic digest, Chilean writer Labatut’s stylish English-language debut offers an embellished, heretical, and thoroughly engrossing account of the personalities and creative madness that gave rise to some of the 20th century’s greatest scientific discoveries. Labatut begins with Prussian blue, the first synthetic pigment, created by alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel, and links it to the evolution of modern industrial poisons and the life of WWI German chemist Fritz Haber. Labatut then follows Alexander Grothendieck, the reclusive French mathematician whose political and spiritual inclinations led him to a life of monklike sequestration, before dramatizing the long battle between Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger over the future of quantum physics. Labatut, like his single-minded, sometimes nearly demented protagonists, is interested in the underlying nature of things; his subject is the all-consuming human drive to discover, and the danger therein, which he explores with literary but never pretentious prose, impressively translated by West (on Prussian blue: “something in the colour’s chemical structure invoked violence: a fault, a shadow, an existential stain passed down from those experiments in which the alchemist dismembered living animals to create it”). Hard to pin down and all the more enjoyable for it, this unique work is one to be savored. Agent: Constanza Martinez, Puentes Agency.

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    Pushkin Press
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When We Cease to Understand the World
When We Cease to Understand the World
Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize
Benjamín Labatut
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