It has taken 13.7 billion years, but the Universe has finally produced a coffee-table quality book to commemorate the Big Bang and its consequences. _Bang! The Complete History of the Universe_ (Carlton Books) by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott is not massive, as coffee-table books go, but its big format is perfect for the dramatic sorts of pictures that the Hubble Space Telescope or the larger Earth-bound telescopes can give us. It isn't just pictures, however. The text does an exemplary job of covering a huge amount of information. Necessarily, in 190 pages laid over with photos, details are skipped; on one page are both the disaster of the Permian Extinction 250 million years ago and the Cretaceous Extinction (wiping out the dinosaurs) 65 million years ago. There is the most detail in the earliest pages of the book, dealing with the events before around 700 million years ago, when there started to be discrete objects like galaxies that we could have actually seen, had we been there at that time. (In a sense, we do see them at that time, as the Hubble's lovely deep field images can show.) This is also the part of the book that makes the least sense to those of us who are stuck in a Newtonian world. There are books with fuller explanations of the strangeness of the Universe immediately after the Big Bang, but none quite so much fun.
For fun is obviously part of the trip the three authors have taken, and it starts right on the cover, which above the book's title shows a huge, glowing, fragmented fireball, obviously the Big Bang in progress. "Our cover artwork is for fun only. There is no suggestion that any part of the Big Bang ever looked like this." Not only that, but it could never have been seen at such a distance, because there was no such distance; space did not exist except within that Bang. There are still gaps in our understanding of the Big Bang and how it produced all we are and all we see. "We must remember that it is impossible to prove a theory, and all one can hope to do is ensure it is consistent with all the available evidence." The evidence isn't all in, and they remind us, "...we would be amazed if in a few years time our book would not need to be substantially re-written." Given all the confirmatory data, it is hard to imagine that the big picture given here would be in error in any large way. After the main text of the book, there are a useful glossary, capsule biographies of the modern astronomers and cosmologists who have added to our understanding of the Big Bang, and a basic primer on practical astronomy that includes good directions about the topic "How to become an astronomer". This is upbeat, compared to the final chapter which has to do with the end of the Universe.
Much has been made in the British press about the personalities who produced the book, although _Bang!_ would easily stand on its own without famous authors. The least known is Chris Lintott, a working astrophysicist who assists Sir Patrick Moore in presenting a famous monthly BBC show _The Sky at Night_, which is now the longest-running science program in the world. Moore himself, because of his show and his hundreds of fiction and nonfiction books, is possibly the world's best known astronomer. The surprise author, for those who do star-gazing of the celebrity rather than astronomical type, is Brian May, who as a kid was inspired by one of Moore's books to take up astronomy. He was a founding member of the famous rock group Queen and a guitarist of some note. May was doing his PhD studies in interplanetary dust when Queen took off (he wrote such songs as "We Will Rock You"). He is currently updating and completing his thesis in between musical activities, although he does already have an honorary degree of Doctor of Science. If a little celebrity power gets people interested in the book, and interested in the huge amount of scientific thinking it reflects, I think it makes up for the additions to our culture made by, say, Britney Spears. _Bang!_ is a wonderful summary for adults and would be a terrific book for any reading young person.