My son recommended this (Thank you, Isaac!) and my kids rarely recommend books to me so I try to make a point of reading them when it happens.
My thoughts: Do we have a whole new crime-oriented genre of quest-themed, missing historical item books? There was The Da Vinci Code stimulating the plot-theme and there have been books about missing Constitution memoirs, another one about something missing from an Egyptologist. I don’t know what all but I’ve seen the comparison to The Da Vinci Code mentioned in many blurbs (I had mixed feelings about Brown’s book.) The books in this genre center around a missing historical item of great importance creating the motive for murder and the plot usually consists of big chase scenes – across a museum, through a sports complex, or around the world. In Final Theory there’s a chase through a net-worked computer game. What makes each book different is the background story – the Last Supper painting, the US Constitution, the jewels of the Romanovs … or something else.
In the case of Final Theory the missing item is a great “unifying theory” which Einstein (fictionally!) developed and left in the care of several co-researchers. A “unifying theory of everything” would combine theories of general relativity and quantum theory.
It’s pretty good – interesting. I’m not sure if Alpert got the facts right or not, but since he is a contributing editor at Scientific American it’s probably in the ball park and Alpert generalizes a great deal – he dumbs it down, I think – a good thing in this case. The point, for the purposes of the novel, is that the formulas involved in this “final theory” could be used to create a weapon so powerful it could conceivably destroy massive chunks of the earth at a whack – and therefore has to be kept out of the wrong hands.
Um… whose hands are the right ones? The scientists who hold the information are rapidly dying by assisted drowning – murder. This information is very badly wanted. In the opening scenes, a guy named Simon murders Hans Kleinman, one of the select scientists, but while Kleinman is dying in the hospital he manages to tell David Swift, a friend and co-worker, a series of numbers prefaced by the words, “Einheitliche Feldtheorie.” Final Theory is told primarily from Swift’s point of view as he chases around trying to escape the FBI and the murderous Simon, but there are scenes which focus on Simon’s group or the FBI group and Lucille, it’s evil leader. Both groups want the information, but neither group acts like good guys. Taking place during the last Bush administration (the “cowboy-in-chief”) the political parts are pretty pointed and funny.
After the opening scenes, the FBI goes after David’s ex-wife and son, while David gets the brilliant, beautiful, black, physicist Monique Reynolds to help him. They learn of more scientist deaths but manage to snatch one of the remaining scientists, Amil Gupta, before he’s killed. Together, along with Amil’s grandson, they seek to avoid both the FBI and Simon’s little group.
There are some other contemporary issues thrown in along the way – some popular in fiction right now, autism, race and drugs, others not so often seen- snake-handling, apocalyptic-style Christians.
A largish chunk of the chase takes place in some very well-imagined techno-thriller scenes – ala Reamde by Neal Stephenson and some of the theory plus interpretations get a bit far-fetched although still enjoyable.
Bottom line this is a fun, page-turning thriller – perfect for summer.