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Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth Paperback – 2 May 2002

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (2 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349114838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349114835
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.7 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,038,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

The history of the cosmos might seem an impossibly big subject for a single book. But in Atom: an Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth...and Beyond, bestselling American science-writer Lawrence M. Krauss manages to do just that. By centering his story around the long life of a single atom of oxygen located in a drop of water, Krauss expertly guides us from the beginning to the end of the cosmos.

Not so long ago the words "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end..." were accepted as a God-given truth, describing the world that we experience. But no longer, as Krauss reminds us, modern science predicts that there will be an end to our little patch in the cosmos: "eventually...after a host of civilisations have come and gone, one day a single proton in our oxygen atom will go poof. Then perhaps a billion billion billion years later, the second proton will die. The process will continue until our atom, and all atoms in the universe, are no longer. The lives of our atoms will have finally ended." However, as Krauss puts it "a lot can happen before the galactic fuel gauge reads Empty," our oxygen atom will have had a very long, eventful and very interesting life. On the way it gets caught up in the origin of the Earth, its life and ourselves, it is a fascinating story told by a very literate scientist. Lawrence M Krauss is a professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and knows what he is writing about. He has also written five other books about physics and the universe and knows how to put across difficult concepts and the mindboggling problems of scale in the universe (all those -illions). Whenever possible he reminds us of commonly observable features which allow the general reader to glimpse the awesome nature of the atom. With index and a general guide to further reading, an ideal introduction for the general reader. --Douglas Palmer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


ATOM has a truly astounding breadth...Krauss present[s] the ideas with great clarity. With a little effort, readers will reap big rewards here (NEW SCIENTIST)

A reader of this book will travel with the atom, and learn a great deal of modern particle physics, astrophysics and molecular biology (NEW SCIENTIST)

It's mind-boggling stuff, told with humour and a rich tapestry of literary associations. Even the least scientifically inclined will be able to comprehend the events that shaped the universe and which conspired to create our own solar system (TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT)

The history of the cosmos might seem an impossibly big subject for a single book. But in Atom: an Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth...and Beyond, bestselling American science-writer Lawrence M. Krauss manages to do just that. By centering his st (FOCUS)

[Krauss] admits he had to learn [geology and biology] from scratch before writing ATOM. Not only had he mastered them, he often finds lyrical ways of explaining ideas in both fields. Indeed, the standard of writing in Atom is perhaps even higher than in his 1995 bestseller, The Physics of Star Trek (Guardian)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stephen Hawking first kindled my interest in physics and cosmology with the release of his book A Brief History of Time in 1988. If I'm honest, whilst I had little trouble with the broad themes presented in the book, some of the more arcane subject matter was beyond my comprehension at the time and I was left feeling that I may have aimed a little high on my first attempt. However, having just read Lawrence Krauss' Atom, I think that I've finally discovered where I should have started!

Of course, Krauss didn't publish Atom until 2001, thirteen years after Hawking's bestseller, but that's not the point. The point is that he delivers a masterful introduction to cosmology that builds the reader's knowledge rather than presuming it and, in the process, makes the subject more accessible to lay readers than Hawking's earlier offering managed. Furthermore, unlike other books on the history of the universe, this isn't a scholarly rendering of how scientific understanding has developed over the centuries or a dry treatise on modern theory: instead, Krauss adopts a clever fiction to introduce a coherent and satisfying explanation of how the universe has developed from the Big Bang to the present day and goes on to speculate on the fate of our universe - fascinating stuff.

All this Krauss achieves with a light touch and a gentle humour that makes this an enjoyable read without patronizing the reader. Throughout one gets a sense of the joy that he has for science and the scientific process and his obvious pleasure is infectious: seldom have I enjoyed a book so much!

If I have any criticism, it is of the gratuitous use of adverbs and intensifiers that, very(!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an interesting blend of science and fantasy; by which I mean that it is strong on providing a wide range of scientifically based insights carried along on the vehicle of a fantasy story. But this is fantasy at its very best - namely, a fantastic story. The protagonist is a single oxygen atom made up of 8 protons, 8 neutrons and 8 electrons whose ancestry can be traced to its earlier incarnations as part of the Big Bang who sets out on a journey across the cosmos literally through space and time.
Krauss adopts a technique used by the great Primo Levi towards the end of his seminal book on the Periodic Table, but in Atom the 'experiences' of our oxygen atom are far more fully explored, although as Krauss himself admits, perhaps with less literary talent.
Although the book is easier to follow for a reader with some educational background in science, it is devoid of mathematics and an intelligent reader would be able to follow the general events and ideas without much problem.
Atom is an inspiring book and reflects the enthusiasm Krauss clearly feels for his subject as anyone who has watched him on U-tube can see.
If I had one criticism of the work it is that it is possibly a little too long for what the author has to say and a bit of tighter editing would have helped in parts. That said, overall the book still deserves 5 stars in my opinion.
I should recommend it to anyone who has an interest and some knowledge about these subjects and likes to look at the Big Picture.
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Format: Paperback
This book requires basic knowledge of physics and chemistry. Chapters 1 - 7 introduce cosmology; Chapters 8 - 9 describes evolution of stars, and physical and chemical process for the production of chemical elements; Chapters 10 - 13 addresses the evolution of life on hospitable planets such as earth. Chapters 8, 9 and 11 provide significant amount of information, while some chapters are too descriptive and boring.

When the universe was at its infancy, it consisted of clouds of hydrogen and helium molecules that started to collapse over millions of years (mass accretion) under gravity. Progressively the temperature increased due to compression and the molecules started to dissociate into atoms and finally to ions at high pressure and temperatures. At 15 million degrees, about one in a 100 million protons gain sufficient energy to collide and fuse with each other to produce deuterium nuclei, further nuclear reactions generated helium-3 nucleus. Collision of two helium-3 nuclei results in helium-4 and two protons, generating intense radiation (energy) and pressure (centrifugal force) to counter the gravitational (centripetal) force. Thus thermonuclear reactions produce heat and light of a star over billions of years of its existence which affects geological process and biological evolution in orbiting planets. If a star is massive, gravitational collapse continues and the temperature at inner core rises to 100 million degrees when two helium-4 nuclei fuse to form berylluim-8 nuclei; at higher core temperatures collision of helium-4 with beryllium-8 results in carbon-12. After millions of years of burning helium, the inner core continues to fall as the compression continues to raise core temperature and this promotes carbon-12 and helium-4 nuclear fusion producing oxygen-16 nucleus.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9986da14) out of 5 stars 1 review
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x999d9198) out of 5 stars Unifies cosmology, geology, biology in one continuous tale 15 Sept. 2009
By James Neville - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The concept is cute - trace "the life of an oxygen atom" from the big bang to life on earth. From reading this book you get an amazing series of new "aha's" and interests in further science topics to read.

Lawrence Kraus is one of those real-life physicists who likes to communicate the latest details of their science to the rest of us. As a physics major who moved on to a career in business but never lost their fascination for science, I love that!

The beauty of "Atom" is it unifies cosmology, geology, and biology in one tale. Krauss includes the latest on how the first seeds of life are thought to have evolved (e.g., on meteorites that crashed into earth). He reminds us that we are all made of stardust (i.e., carbon and heavier elements that were forged in ancient stars which then went nova, spreading their material universe wide for new stars, planets, and beings).

I never realized how many times a solar system could start to coalesce only to be blown about again. Ditto the conditions on what is to eventually be Earth. Kruass' discussion of what was going on with Earth while the poor meteorite was trying to land triggered me to follow up next with a great book on geology.

One caveat: he's a tad wordy but it's worth it because he includes the details that other popularizations leave out. Now it's in paperback woot!
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