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The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report Paperback – 2 Nov 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New edition edition (2 Nov. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753804751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753804759
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 928,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Who among us hasn't, at one time or another, lain flat on a grassy slope and stared up at the passing clouds, wondering where the sky begins and ends? Timothy Ferris, professor emeritus of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has written an entire book on just that subject. There was a time when cosmology was the poor stepsister to other, more glamorous sciences; then, clothed in new astronomical data (much of it obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope) and taken to their bosoms by particle physicists, the study of the cosmos has attained giddying new heights of popularity and respect. In The Whole Shebang, Ferris describes this transformation in entertaining and lucid style, beginning with the Big Bang theory and winding up with the author's own "Contrarian Theological Afterward."

In between, Ferris explicates the shape of space, black holes, the origin of the elements and the evolution of galaxies and stars. As if encapsulating the cosmos weren't enough, he plunges cheerfully into an account of quantum physics and its relationship to the study of the universe. The subtitle of The Whole Shebang is A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report, and indeed, one of the intriguing theories presented in this book is that our universe is but one of many, each with physical laws and the potential for life. The Whole Shebang is a book that even those of us who hated science in school will love.


Jim Harrison Author of "Legends of the Fall""Timothy Ferris's "The Whole Shebang" is a splendid tonic for our all too worldly claustrophobia.Your consciousness will be altered to the point that you'll never look at the heavens again without stupidfied awe and wonderment." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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THIS BOOK will summarize what we know about the cosmos and how we know it, and will speculate about the directions cosmology may take in the future. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By on 11 July 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is wonderful. It sets out to explain how cosmologists think the universe is the way it is based on current understandings, but it doesn't assume the reader has an astrophysics degree. This is important stuff, which should not be just for the few with the ability to think sideways and solve complex calculations before breakfast; and so it is. Timothy Ferris guides us through the thought processes (and sometimes historical politics) that have led the human race to reach its current position clearly and with good humour. We can get a feeling for the universe and a real understanding of our place in it. Again Fantastic!
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By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 25 Sept. 2005
Format: Paperback
Having been introduced to Ferris through his photographic essay 'Galaxies' and 'The Red Limit', The Whole Shebang was welcome new work. It proved to be fine work, indeed. Ferris has a fine knack for science writing, and cosmology must be the most challenging task of all. After all, he's dealing with the universe.
Beginning with a brief history of thought on cosmology, he moves into the research of light's properties. This foundation is central to our understanding of why the universe is the result of a single massive explosion from which space-time evolved to today's cosmological limits. It was Darwin who provided the framework within which we've arrived at that awareness. By offering natural selection as evolution's process, he focussed thinking about the time needed for life's mechanisms to work. From extending the history of life, it was only logical to revise the age of the universe.
Ferris captures the history of expanding cosmology with lucid explanations of the reseachers and their findings. Providing background summaries of the people contributing to cosmology, he positions each within the astrophyics community. Performing the observer's role with finesse, he notes flaws, but leaves judgments to each scientist's peers. He guides us through the ideas, proofs and results of study effortlessly. The reading may sometimes be slow, but Ferris' thorough presentation leaves the reader rich with information. His lively prose eliminates tedium, even with such a vast and complex topic.
This book wouldn't be complete without addressing the ultimate question. Human cultures, confronted with the mysterious canopy 'above' us', for ages assigned some 'higher being' responsibility for manufacturing all those stars and things.
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Format: Paperback
Scientists who write books continually struggle with the problem of how to make complex scientific subjects intelligible to the layman. To some degree this sort of effort must often be more difficult than the challenges they face in their daily scientific work. In the first half of this book Mr. Ferris' ideas successfully penetrate the wooly interior of my brain, and allow me to perceive some of the complexities of the structure of the universe that we live in (and there may be other universes out there, friends).
Things get progressively more sticky, however, as we approach the "speed of space". I begin to experience problems. Perhaps the subject matter is now too difficult for many laymen, or I am a few million neurons short of a fully equipped brain, or perhaps Mr. Ferris's explanatory powers have hit the wall. Naturally my pride leans toward hoping for the last possibility mentioned.
I had some difficulty understanding the horizon problem connected to the expansion of the universe. I decided to see if I could find a discussion of this subject presented by another science writer. New to my library is a book just released called "The Elegant Universe", by Brian Greene, a very prominent string theorist. Mr. Greene does indeed discuss the horizon problem, and I found his presentation quite accessible.
In a nutshell, then, TF is a good writer, and this book is an important one for the layman. But if you find chapters you don't understand, it may be TF and not you who are to blame.
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By A Customer on 31 July 1999
Format: Paperback
With precious little background in either Newtonian physics, or quantum theory I found Ferris' work compelling reading. As part of the great unwashed I have often marvelled at the night sky and wondered "what is going on out there". Likewise the intricacies of sub-atomic stucture stir me to wonder. Ferris, I believe, is a good place to start yet I sense that more rigorous reading and thinking lies ahead. While still reading the book I came across an article in the Toronto Star, indicating that researchers in both Japan and Sudbury Ontario, in underground labs, have discovered that neutrinos have mass. Ferris offers his opinion that neutrinos will be found not to have mass. How quickly our body of knowledge changes. I groaned, however, to see that Ferris wanted to tackle the existence of God question. He begs the question "what God". As I suspected Ferris approached the God question from the rationalist school of Western Christianity.Theology and philosophy are not his arena and his work would have been complete without it.
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By A Customer on 7 Sept. 1998
Format: Paperback
This book examines many issues, but gives few explanations, even about the most important concepts, and as you go on reading you are left with fewer and fewer explanations. One example among many: the author tells us that nothing can be accelerated to a velocity greater than that of light, but what he offers as an explanation for that, actually is only a description of what would happen at such a speed, but we are not told why. And the book goes on on this line. There are also several inaccuracies, as when the author says that ten to the tenth to the twelfth is equal to a one followed by one trillion zeros (when it is a one followed by one hundred and twenty zeros, which already is a really big number); let alone when we are told that the human embryo grows gills like a fish and then transforms them into lungs, with no further explanation. I agree with the readers who believe the author doesn't fully understand some of the things he is writing about. If you are expecting to learn much from this book, you'll be deeply disappointed.
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