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How Big is Big and How Small is Small: The Sizes of Everything and Why [Hardcover]

Timothy Paul Smith
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: £25.00
Price: £22.19 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

24 Oct 2013
This book is about how big is the universe and how small are quarks, and what are the sizes of dozens of things between these two extremes. It describes the sizes of atoms and planets, quarks and galaxies, cells and sequoias. It is a romp through forty-five orders of magnitude from the smallest sub-nuclear particles we have measured, to the edge of the observed universe. It also looks at time, from the epic age of the cosmos to the fleeting lifetimes of ethereal particles. It is a narrative that trips its way from stellar magnitudes to the clocks on GPS satellites, from the nearly logarithmic scales of a piano keyboard through a system of numbers invented by Archimedes and on to the measurement of the size of an atom.

Why do some things happen at certain scales? Why are cells a hundred thousandths of a meter across? Why are stars never smaller than about 100 million meters in diameter? Why are trees limited to about 120 meters in height? Why are planets spherical, but asteroids not? Often the size of an object is determined by something simple but quite unexpected. The size of a cell and a star depend in part on the ratio of surface area to volume. The divide between the size of a spherical planet and an irregular asteroid is the balance point between the gravitational forces and the chemical forces in nature.

Most importantly, with a very few basic principles, it all makes sense. The world really is a most reasonable place.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (24 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199681198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199681198
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 76,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


Smith's book <"How Big is Big and How Small is Small>" is a most enjoyable read, erudite and entertaining. You can learn a great deal not just about how and why we measure things the way we do, but also what limits the sizes of the smallest and largest animals as well as the smallest and largest objects in the Universe. It also puts our human lives into (a Cosmic) perspective. I highly recommend it. (Vlatko Vedral, Professor of Quantum Information Theory at the University of Oxford and the National University of Singapore)

This little book is packed with ideas and facts about the sizes of things in the physical world [...] it will interest general readers as well as scientists looking for a different slant on the story of physics. (Choice)

About the Author

Tim Smith is a Research Professor at Dartmouth College where he teaches Physics and Environmental Studies. Before then he was a Research Scientist at the MIT accelerator where he spent a decade as part of a team building an experiment to measure the arrangement of quarks inside of neutrons and protons. He has written magazine articles about neutrons, wind power and hiking. In this book he gets to explore all that and much more.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Glasgow Dreamer TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
From reading the previews on this, I expected something a little less serious. Perhaps that's my fault; after all, it was published by Oxford University Press, hardly known for their light-hearted texts.

I remember listening to a discussion on the radio not long ago concerning the difficulties in conveying the concepts and magnitudes of measurement to "the man in the street". Much of the conversation revolved around the "generally" accepted units of size, such as the width of a human hair, an elephant, a London bus, and Wales. I'm sure we've all heard dozens of stories or news reports which use such units to illustrate size.

This book would have been an easier read, had it incorporated more of that "real world" type of thinking. While I could certainly follow the text, it was a little dry, and a few more references to more readily identifiable ideas may have lifted the tone somewhat.

Overall, I found the book interesting, if a little dry. I found it helped to read it one chapter at a time, taking a considerable break between chapters, as it was easy to be confused. Perhaps other readers with better cognitive skills may fare better.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy and heady 20 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I got this because my daughter loves science related topics and it seems to have an element of fun about it. However, there most definitely was no fun in this book. It was less like the RIs Christmas Lectures and more like a Cambridge University Final Exam! This unfortunately, was far too heavy to show to my daughter, I even found it a struggle at times. I guess the author is a true scientist and does not really have the qualities to impart his knowledge. Not a book I got along with easily and found it very easy to put down and won't be picking it up in a hurry again. It is a shame, because it could be a very interesting book if presented in the right way.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing topic but a bit dense 2 Feb 2014
By Max
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There are so many fascinating science books available at the moment, perhaps because it is such an exciting time in the world of physics. How Big is Big and How Small is Small gets as the truly astounding range of scales in the known world, and as such is a deeply intriguing idea.

Unfortunately the execution was a little dense for my tastes. There is a huge amount of info packed into this book, not all of it really relevant to the main topic of the book. As such, it didn't really grab or retain my attention. I'm not quite sure whether it is written as a book to be read from cover to cover, or as a reference book. In a way it slips between those two stools a little.

Not bad by any means, but there are better written books on the fascinating frontiers of science available.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Quite interesting 16 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The book is based on the title i.e. from small parts of an atom to the universe and beyond. It has interesting things to say as it is scientific but a bit muddly (structure) and dull at times. However, overall a good read. It would appeal to people who like to read books on science and want to expand their knowledge of these concepts.
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By Jason Mills VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book explores the cosmos at all scales: down through cells, molecules, atoms, nuclei and quarks; and up through planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies and on to the edge of the observable universe. Although much of the material will be familiar to anyone interested in science, approaching it along this axis is fruitful and interesting. For instance, it leads to observations on how the surface-to-volume ratio limits both the size of animals and the size of individual cells; and picks out the odd gap on the number line between the size of the atom and that of the nucleus, a scale at which nature has produced no objects at all.

The book's structure was a little bewildering to me: the author runs up and down the scales for a few chapters, discussing measurement methods for different applications, and then runs up and down again, talking more about the contents of the universe than the means of investigation. But within these broad divisions things are still all mixed together: the astronomer's cosmic ladder, for instance, is covered close to the end of the book, and the startling importance of the weak force has to wait to the final page. However, this variegated smorgasbord approach retained my interest throughout.

A few cavils: The little diagrams heading the chapters are uncomfortably small and would have been easier to read printed up the page instead of across. I docked a star because the editing should have been better: I spotted forty-odd typos and such, including a couple of clangers: if Edmond Halley had indeed observed the transit of Mars (rather than Mercury), he must have been riding his comet, since he certainly couldn't do it from here.
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