The book: Alan Lightman ’70 is a physicist who has always appreciated the logical, rational rules that govern our world and its impermanence. However, one night as Lightman was looking at the stars from a small boat in the sea, he was overcome with a sensation of merging with something larger than himself — a grand eternal unity, something that was both permanent but immaterial. Lightman explores these seemingly contradictory beliefs in Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine (Pantheon), analyzing science and religion while inquiring into the human desire for truth and meaning. His sources are as different as Einstein’s theory of relativity is to St. Augustine’s conception of absolute truth, but they are all concerned with absolute truth.

The author: Alan Lightman ’70 worked for many years as a theoretical physicist and has written six novels, including Einstein’s Dreams. He has also written a memoir, three collections of essays, and several books on scientific topics.

Opening lines: 1979. Smell of damp earth and stone. In the dim light, a small group of people talk in hushed voices as if entering a church, spellbound by the paintings on the rock wall: bison and mammoth and horse, colored with red ochre made from dirt and charcoal and bound with saliva and animal fat. I am without words, another ghost in this primordial cave in southwestern France. Fount-de-Gaume it is called. The cave paintings date to 17,000 B.C. and were discovered by a local schoolmaster a century ago. Hand-drawn shapes swerve and flow following the natural contours of the stone walls. … Clearly, these early humans were consummate artists with a heightened connection to nature. Did they also believe in an ethereal world? Did they believe in the invisible?

Reviews: “Lightman’s illuminating language and crisp imagery aim to ignite a sense of wonder in any reader who’s ever pondered the universe, our world, and the nature of human consciousness.” —Publishers Weekly