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The 4-Percent Universe [Kindle Edition]

Richard Panek
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

It is one of the most disturbing aspects of our universe: only four per cent of it consists of the matter that makes up every star, planet, and every book. The rest is completely unknown. Acclaimed science writer Richard Panek tells the story of the handful of scientists who have spent the past few decades on a quest to unlock the secrets of “dark matter” and the even stranger substance called “dark energy”. These are perhaps the greatest mysteries in science,and solving them will reshape our understanding of the universe and our place in it. The stakes could not be higher. Panek’s fast-paced narrative, filled with original, in-depth reporting and intimate, behind-the-scenes details, brings this epic story to life for the very first time.

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

About the Author

Richard Panek is author of The Invisible Century and Seeing and Believing and writes frequently for the New York Times, as well as Discover, Esquire, Outside, and others.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 759 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1851688218
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (3 Jan. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0082161M0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #346,941 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great story but a frustrating read 7 Aug. 2011
By alapper
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Tsuchan
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 4 Percent Informative 28 Feb. 2013
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Let there be dark! 19 Mar. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are expecting a hard nosed science book such as: 'Why Does E= mc2?' 'A brief history of Time' or 'The Quantum Universe' then you will be disappointed. What Panek has produced however is a thoroughly researched, semi biographical account of the lives and work of the key scientific protagonists in dark matter and dark energy investigation, that following the discovery of the Higgs boson, lies at the frontier of particle research.

At times the pace of the science can be frustratingly slow and the biographical detail a little florid. Nevertheless, the author paints a compelling human picture of academic research: the rivalries and tensions, the personal sacrifices, the funding crises, the ground breaking insights, failures and even the tragedies.

The human narrative is based around two rival teams of researchers vying to be the first to discover and publish their findings with respect to dark matter and energy and thus the future of the universe. What makes this story fascinating and the rivalry so intense is the fact that the teams come from the very different disciplines of astronomy and particle physics - with different academic modus operandi and cultures.

Panek adroitly outlines the study of supernovae which led to the dramatic conclusion that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating, rather than slowing as would be predicted by Newtonian theories of gravity. He describes how this in turn led to the revival of Einstein's cosmological constant, initially seen by physicists as a fudge and later discarded with Hubble's discovery of an expanding universe through inflation. Subsequent discussion leads inexorably into the hypothesis of dark matter - bizarre enough and then stranger still -dark energy as the catalyst of this acceleration.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars What do todays' cosmologists know about our Universe? Not ...
What do todays' cosmologists know about our Universe? Not much. An encouragement for young scientists to proceed, there is still so much to learn about our world.
Published 4 days ago by Raymond
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much gossipy chat. Not enough physics
I would have preferred to see a little more setting out of the science in between the no doubt interesting stuff about the personalities involved. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Book worm UK
3.0 out of 5 stars The Unseen and Unknown Dark Universe
Although the title refers to 4%, the book is actually about the 96%! It tells how the unseen universe of dark matter and dark energy was deduced. Read more
Published on 11 Mar. 2013 by N. BARTLETT
3.0 out of 5 stars I agree
Being a science and sci-fi geek I bought this, on sale, and was quite looking forward to it. I was aware of dark matter and energy, in as much as I had read bits about them and... Read more
Published on 10 Jan. 2013 by Richard W. Girdwood
1.0 out of 5 stars The title is misleading
The book takes a look at the competition facing astronomers and physicists in achieving recognition for their research in areas of cosmology. Read more
Published on 18 July 2011 by TJ Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars A new "light" on the universe(s)
Yes, folks, the bible failed to mention the missing 96%! Until the last couple of decades, we all thought that what we saw in the night sky was what there was (with the caveat of... Read more
Published on 2 Jun. 2011 by D. J. Dillon
4.0 out of 5 stars More a history than a physics text book.
This book has helped confirm my prejudice about all knowledge - that it is essentially historical in nature. Read more
Published on 19 May 2011 by Iphidaimos
5.0 out of 5 stars Making the unfathomable somewhat less so...
Richard Panek is a translator and elucidator. Those who pursue academic and scientific knowledge have become increasingly specialized, and speak in an esoteric jargon... Read more
Published on 26 April 2011 by John P. Jones III
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable book
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. I did know something about the work being done in the search for dark matter particles and the supernova search that led to the conclusion that dark... Read more
Published on 6 Mar. 2011 by Richard Smith
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