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Physicist, author and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili was born in Baghdad in 1962 to an Iraqi father and English mother. He settled in England in 1979, studying physics at the University of Surrey, where he is now a professor.

Who is your perfect reader?

Anyone who hasn’t had any interest in science until picking up my book.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

An Idiot Abroad by Karl Pilkington. My daughter bought it for me for Christmas. I thought I’d hate it but I loved it.

Which books are on your bedside table?

The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha; A Dance with Dragons, by George RR Martin; Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark.

Which book changed your life?

The book that had the most dramatic effect on how I view the world was Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. It resonated with me in terms of ideas about human free will and the mind/body problem. All very logical and sensible. I thought, “I can buy into this.”

What are you most proud of writing?

I think my book Quantum. Even looking at it now 10 years later, I wouldn’t go back and change anything.

What do you snack on while you write?

I try to restrict it to fruit but there tends to be the odd cereal bar, packets of crisps, tea and coffee. But at some point in the day there is always a Granny Smith apple.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

The physicist Richard Feynman. Or Stephen Fry.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

My wife.

What are you scared of?

Bungee jumping.

What keeps you awake at night?


When were you happiest?

I’m a very happy person and I think apart from the inevitable dips in life, I always regard the stage I’m in as being the happiest.

When do you feel most free?

Usually on the first day of my summer holiday with my family. It is always a time when I have had to try very hard to clear my desk. My wife won’t allow me to take anything work-related with me. I find that very liberating.

How do you relax?

I don’t find my work stressful so I don’t need much relaxation. But I enjoy cinema, hiking, watching sport on TV.

What would you change about yourself?

I’d like to have a better memory.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

My favourite city is Rome – I’ve only been there once, for my silver wedding anniversary, and it was very magical.

Jim Al-Khalili’s latest book is ‘Paradox: the Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics’ (Black Swan). He will be talking at the Oxford Literary Festival on Saturday March 22

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