Book Review: ‘In a Flight of Starlings’ offers a glimpse into scientific discovery

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Nobel Prize-winning physicist Giorgio Parisi walks readers through his research on spin glasses and the history of scientific discoveries in “In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonders of Complex Systems.”

ByANDREW DeMILLO The Associated Press

Book Review - In a Flight of Starlings

This cover image released by Penguin Press shows “In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonders of Complex Systems” by Giorgio Parisi. (Penguin Press via AP)

The Associated Press

“In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonders of Complex Systems” by Giorgio Parisi (Penguin Press)

It’s a safe assumption that the average person on the street has never heard of spin glass and couldn’t explain what it is.

That shouldn’t scare casual readers away from a “In a Flight of Starlings: The Wonders of Complex Systems” by Giorgio Parisi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 2021 for his research into the complex metal alloys. It doesn’t take interest or a background in physics to appreciate Parisi’s work.

Writing in clear terms for the layperson that avoid making the reader feel like they’ve wandered into a lecture hall, the physicist offers a glimpse into his work and a look at how scientific research has evolved over the years. He describes how much of a role intuition has played in some of the most significant scientific discoveries.

But be prepared for plenty of diagrams that Parisi relies upon to help readers understand the key parts of his research.

Most importantly, the deceptively slim volume serves as a forceful argument for the value of scientific literacy at a time when it’s increasingly being challenged by misinformation.

Parisi makes the case for clearer communication by the science community to demystify their work and to prevent the general public from embracing irrational and false information.

“In the face of a science perceived as inaccessible magic, nonscientists are pushed toward irrational beliefs,” Parisi writes. “If science comes across as pseudo-magic, then why not opt for actual magic instead?”

Parisi’s book is a step toward making physics feel more accessible and less like magic.

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