One of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2021
Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize and the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature
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.
About the Author and the Translator:
Benjamín 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 writer and literary 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, which is published by NYRB Classics, and Pere Gimferrer for NYRB Poets. His debut novel, My Father’s Diet, was published in early 2022.