Review

Final Theory

by Mark Alpert

Just a day or so before I sat down to write this review, a group
of scientists turned on something called a supercollider in an
attempt to replicate events that would have taken place immediately
after the theoretical “Big Bang.” Some quarters feared
that this might create a large black hole that would turn off the
lights permanently (obviously that never happened). But in one of
those wonderful bits of synchronicity that occasionally take place,
the publication of FINAL THEORY, Mark Alpert’s debut novel,
has occurred at about the same time as this experiment and deals
with roughly the same topic.

Alpert is a self-described science geek, which I don’t think
of as a self-deprecating term. An editor at the esteemed
Scientific American, Alpert has mastered the ability to
describe the complex in (relatively) simple terms. He does an
excellent job of this throughout FINAL THEORY, striking a winning
balance between the explosions and karate that are part and parcel
of the thriller genre while incorporating short but pithy lectures
regarding quantum physics along the way, just to remind us why
people are either killing everyone else or running away from those
folks.

The majority of the action in FINAL THEORY centers on David Swift,
a Columbia University professor who has achieved a modicum of fame
as an author of a work concerning the lives of the great
physicists. Swift’s otherwise quiet, not entirely satisfying
life is suddenly and violently jarred when he is called to the
bedside of Hans Walther Kleinman, his one-time mentor who has been
the victim of a brutal attack. Kleinman, regarded as one of the
greatest contemporary theoretical physicists, uses his last moments
on earth to pass to Swift a string of apparently random numbers
that in fact is the key to Albert Einstein’s unified theory,
The Theory of Everything, which Einstein was never able to prove.
Or so it was believed.

With the passage of this knowledge to Swift, however, a dangerous
and deadly pursuit is set in motion. Within hours of
Kleinman’s death, Swift is arrested by the FBI, attacked by a
merciless, seemingly unstoppable assassin and pursued by enemies on
both sides of the law, all for the secret that he possesses but
does not understand. His only hope of survival --- and
comprehension --- is an unlikely physicist who he knew briefly
years before and a young man who may unwittingly hold the key
everyone needs to solve the final mystery of the understanding of
the universe.

FINAL THEORY is in equal measures a smart and entertaining
thriller. Despite an unfortunate tendency to occasionally wander
afield to grind an unwieldy political ax, Alpert keeps the
excitement engine racing at fever pitch from practically the first
page while carefully reining in any impulse that he might have had
to discuss ad nauseam the quantum physics that he
understands and explains so well. One who is unfamiliar with the
field will be intrigued by the explanations rather than frightened
away. The result, which combines exotic subject matter with
interesting and intriguing characters, makes FINAL THEORY a
winner.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Final Theory
by Mark Alpert

  • Publication Date: June 3, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1416572872
  • ISBN-13: 9781416572879