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The 4-Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality Paperback – 1 Feb 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (1 Feb. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1851688218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851688210
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 367,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Richard Panek has written a contemporary adventure story of modern-day explorers who venture forth into the universe not by ships, but by telescopes and satellites. Like adventure stories of old, there are visionaries, heroes, patrons, and, perhaps, a few pirates. A riveting book.' --Lee Smolin, author of The Trouble with Physics

'Modern cosmology tackles some of the biggest questions we have about the nature of the cosmos. In The 4-Percent Universe, Richard Panek brings this quest down to a human scale. The rivalries, the surprises, and the excitement are brought vividly to life. People are a very tiny percentage of the universe, but we remain the most interesting part.' --Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here

'Richard Panek turns astronomers and physicists into real (and sometimes likeable) characters. You can feel the tension as two rival groups race to discover the fate of the universe. We see scientists as real people, warts and all. Panek turns potentially baffling science into a tense story of rivalry and discovery.' --Brian Clegg, author of Before the Big Bang and Armageddon Science


“The 4-Percent Universe is a lively and well-researched account of the personalities and ambitions of modern scientists.”

(Alan Lightman - author of Einstein’s Dreams) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By alapper on 7 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story told in this book is one of the great discoveries of modern times and it is good that someone has chosen to tell it. However I found it rather difficult to follow the science because of the continuous insertion of biographical material - and this became quite frustrating at times. Because of the many people involved there is a lot of this and the science and the discovery get rather lost. Perhaps the biographical material should have been kept in separate chapters from the scientific development. It lacks the conciseness and breathtaking excitement of the 'Double Helix' by James Watson - another thrilling tale of an elegant and truly great discovery. Perhaps discoveries by one or two people are intrinsically more interesting than team events. However it is still well worth buying just to hear the tale.
I should perhaps mention another disappointment in this account which is the relegation of the WMAP probe to a passing mention - I think a full account of this would have made a good chapter in its own right.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tsuchan on 29 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cosmology is a complex subject to cover for non-specialists, because there's always quite a long and necessary background story, reviewing the science that has led us to the start point of the book.

But this book is written in the style of a fiction novel, with a scene being set and a drama enacted. I guess the very first paragraph of the book shows what I mean:

"in the beginning - which is to say, 1965 - the universe was simple. It came into being one noontime early that year over the course of a telephone conversation. Jim Peebles was sitting in the office of his mentor and frequent collaborator, the Princeton physicist Robert Dicke, along with two other colleagues. The phone rang; Dicke took the call. Dicke helped run a research firm on the side, and he himself held dozens of patents. During these weekly lunches in his office, he sometime got phone calls that were full of esoteric and technical vocaulary that Peebles knew intimately - concepts the four physicists had been discussing that very afternoon. Cold load, for instance: a device that would help calibrate the horn antenna - another term Peebles overheard - that they would be using to try to detect a special signal from space. The three physicists grew quiet and looked at Dicke. Dicke thanked the caller and hung up, then turned to his colleages and said, "Well boys, we've been scooped."

Don't expect the style to settle down - it doesn't. It's something like a radio panel show game, with contestants given a task "Explain a scientific story in the style of an Inspector Rebus novel". It's just inappropriate, frustrating; and very soon the recession velocity of useful information exceeds the cosmic attention span, and one just gives up.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David E. Perkins on 5 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is what I would call a very 'thorough' book, and I think readers' enjoyment (hence their * rating) will depend upon the balance of their interests between the science and the history. I have read a number of this type before and my inclination is towards the science but with an interest in the history as well.

This book covers the science quite well, and in a fair bit of detail (though sometimes the descriptions seem a bit bland even if they are lengthy). But it is overwhelmingly about the history of the discoveries and the relationships between the different, sometimes competing, individual researchers, and teams. So the book could be said to be about 25-30% science, and the rest narrative. It is quite a long read too, so eventually I found myself sneaking a look at where the notes, references, index, etc started, to see how near the finishing line I was getting! That meant that my rating is down a bit, but I am sure others will enjoy it more, as it undoubtedly a good book.

An example is the historic phone call between two sets of researchers who were investigating background radiation from the sky that came to be known as the Cosmic Microwave Backgound. Not only is there the obligatory mention of the content of the call itself, but in later threads there are further references to it such as 'this was the same room that ...', and 'this was the day that...'. All this perhaps is a reflection of the description of his work as "writing on science and culture" in various publications and books, trying to set the whole research programme in context.

As with other books I have read, the narrative repeatedly reverts in time to trace through each thread of the investigations and discoveries from initial ideas to the latest situation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Cosmology, the science of the origin, evolution and the ultimate fate of the Universe, is a surprisingly young scientific discipline. For the most of history cosmological questions were dealt with through a philosophical or theological inquiry, but in the early part of the twentieth century it became possible to inquire about these things in a more systematic and scientific manner. The research in Cosmology really gained steam since the 1960s, when the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) put the Big Bang Theory on a very firm footing. However, the subsequent inquiry revealed something really intellectually curious and potentially disturbing about the Universe: we can only see a very tiny fraction of it. The vast proportion of the "stuff" that makes up the Universe, about 96% of it to be more precise, is invisible. We can only infer its existence from the gravitational effects it has on the "visible" matter. This "invisible" stuff came to be known by a very prosaic couple of names: dark matter and dark energy.

The aim of "The 4% Universe" is to explain our best current understanding of what the dark matter and the dark energy are. The book provides some good physics background to all of these phenomena, and tries to explain how the observation and the research into these topics have progressed over the last half a century or so. Unfortunately, this book goes way overboard in taking the inside look at the workings of the physicists and the astronomers who do research on dark matter and dark energy. It narrates, in painful details sometimes, the comings and goings of the select groups of scientists as they conduct their research, grapple with work-family balance, and engage in petty turf wars with their colleagues and other competing research collaborations.
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