When We Cease to Understand the World

Category: Book
By (author): Labatut, Benjamin
Translated By: West, Adrian Nathan
Subject:  FICTION / Alternative History
  FICTION / Biographical
  FICTION / General
  FICTION / Historical
Publisher: New York Review Books
Published: September 2021
Format: Book-paperback
Pages: 192
Size: 8.50in x 5.75in
Our Price:
$ 23.95
In stock

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize
A fictional examination of the lives of real-life scientists and thinkers whose discoveries resulted in moral consequences beyond their imagining.

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction. 

Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger-these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.

At a breakneck pace and with a wealth of disturbing detail, Labatut uses the imaginative resources of fiction to tell the stories of the scientists and mathematicians who expanded our notions of the possible.
Review Quote*Selected by President Barack Obama for his Summer 2021 Reading List

"Absolutely brilliant. I was utterly gripped and wolfed it down. It feels as if he has invented an entirely new genre." -Mark Haddon

"A thrilling account of theories of physics, and as a series of highly-wrought imaginative extrapolations about the physicists who arrived at them." -Geoff Dyer

"When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut is the strangest and most original book I've read for years. It hovers in a state between fiction and non-fiction, or wave and particle, and makes an account of modern mathematics and science into something as eerie as a great ghost story." -Philip Pullman, New Statesman, ‘Books of the Year'

"A dazzling associative caper full of graceful arabesques linking continents and centuries and ideas." -The Sunday Times Culture

"Remind[s] us of fiction's power to take us to another world and expand our understanding of this one . . . When We Cease to Understand the World showcases the minds seeking to pierce the mysterious heart of mathematics." -The Guardian, ‘Biggest books of autumn'

"It may be possible to actually feel your brain getting bigger as you read." -Evening Standard

"Labatut has written a dystopian nonfiction novel set not in the future but in the present." -John Banville, The Guardian

"An exquisitely written and continuously fascinating hybrid work of fiction and history." -Catherine Taylor, The Irish Times

"Wholly mesmerising and revelatory . . . Completely fascinating." -William Boyd

"Using epoch-defining moments from the history of science, from Albert Einstein's theory of relativity to Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg's opposing views on quantum mechanics, Labatut uses fiction to crack open the stories of scientists and mathematicians whose expanded our notions of the possible, while also presenting them as human, all too human." -Dazed

"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's] subject is the all-consuming human drive to discover, and the danger therein. . . Hard to pin down and all the more enjoyable for it, this unique work is one to be savored." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
Biographical NoteBenjamín Labatut was born in Rotterdam in 1980 and grew up in The Hague, Buenos Aires, and Lima. He 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. 

Adrian Nathan West is a novelist, essayist, and translator living in Spain. His criticism has appeared in the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other publications. He has translated books from German, Catalan, and Spanish, including Jean Améry's Charles Bovary, Country Doctor (NYRB Classics) and Pere Gimferrer (NYRB Poets).