About the book

The Penultimate Curiosity: How science swims in the slipstream of the ultimate question

is a book jointly written by the poet and artist Roger Wagner and the scientist Andrew Briggs, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

It came out in paperback in 2019, and has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese. It won both the Arete Prize and an honourable mention in the 2019 Expanded Reason Awards.

The advance review in the Financial Times said that ‘this gripping work of history … deserves to be read on both sides of the science art divide’; the British Journal of the History of Science described it as ‘an exiting display of erudition, packed with thought-provoking anecdotes and clear explanations of major scientific, religious and philosophical concepts’; while Oxford Today recommended ‘if you read one book this year read this’.


From the cover of the book:

‘When young children begin to ask ‘why?’ they embark on a journey with no final destination. The need to make sense of the world as a whole is an ultimate curiosity at the root of all human religions. It has, in many cultures, shaped and motivated a more down to earth scientific interest in the physical world, which could therefore be described as penultimate curiosity.

These two manifestations of curiosity have a history of connection going deep into the human past. Tracing that history all the way from cave paintings to quantum physics, this book (a collaboration between and an artist and a scientist) sets out to explain the nature of the long entanglement between religion and science: the ultimate and the penultimate curiosity.’

About the Documentary film

For full documentary film and study guide click here.

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