Raised a Christian, Jim Holt grew up thinking that God created the universe. After he stopped believing in an all-powerful deity, Holt set out to find an answer to the existential question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

In talking to Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde, Holt found that it’s not so difficult to cook up a universe like ours. You don’t need supernatural powers or cosmic resources. All you need is a hundred-thousandth of a gram of matter.