Writing for or from a TV science documentary is a challenge. The prose must address a wide spectrum of viewers' knowledge levels. The authors must neither insult nor overwhelm the viewer/reader. Tyson and Goldsmith have achieved that fine balance with this book. It provides a wealth of information about the origins and progress of the universe since its inception at the Big Bang. Tackling an amazingly complex subject, the authors break it down into a well-organised set of topics. Each step takes the reader into a more specific area of interest starting with what can be inferred about the earliest moments of the universe to the formation of planets.
Cosmology, even written for television, is a massive subject to impart. The range of subjects runs from immense forces to the minuscule movements of subatomic particles. The authors start at the smallest, but most powerful point - the time at which the entire universe was the size of a pinhead. From that initial condition, where all space and time were combined in a furiously energetic pellet, the authors follow the universe as it expands and cools. Black holes form and disappear, smudges of material begin to coalesce and the universe begins to display some patterns. Galaxies give birth to stars and planets appear where possible.
In depicting the events and conditions of universe building, the authors provide defining, useful explanations of many phenomena. The issue of "multiple universes" has gained many adherents in theoretical physics and cosmology. Because their very nature precludes observing them, the ranks of critics of the concept are about as equally swollen. "Dark matter", that mysterious material that would explain why things aren't moving about in the manner originally formulated, is clarified [at last!] well. Keeping math at bay in this book, the authors instead explain the concepts of how dark matter's influence was recognised and what efforts have been attempted to detect it. It's interesting at this point to note a dark matter galaxy has been recently identified.
From a topic as seemingly esoteric as dark matter, the authors turn to the more familiar. Stellar and planetary formation result from the accretion of material. Learning that this material is "dust" may give a few pause. This isn't the stuff under the divan, but much finer, assembled from but a few elements in the form of complex molecules. Clouds of this minuscule material may form a disc, leading to the heavier bits selecting locations and sweeping up nearby material. In the densest centre, enough material may initiate stellar ignition. Further out, little lumps combine, build and form planets. If you ask astronomers the details of the process, say the authors, "they can only gesticulate" - a new expression replacing "shrug their shoulders".
Shrewd expressions such as this permeate this book, making it a lively read. Quarks endure "shotgun" marriages and gravity "wriggles loose" from Planck matter. To some this "dumbs down" the findings of years of studious effort. To the reader new to these ideas, it smoothes the path to understanding. If you are new to cosmology, the origin of our universe and what conditions allowed us to inhabit a piece of it and ask all these questions, this book is a treasure to read and keep. Many of these issues will continue to be examined in the coming years. With a bit of effort, you may become one of the names in a later edition.
on 19 February 2015
This is an excellent book. As its title suggests, the book covers the history of the Universe from theories of its origin to a discussion of what might be its future fate. There are 5 parts. The first discussed the Big Bang theory and the origin of matter. The origin of the idea of dark matter is described very well. The second section looks at cosmic structure and the origins of galaxies. In part 3 we move to the formation of stars, Included in this section is a fascinating description of how key elements are formed, and their relative abundance. We learn, for example, why nuclear fusion ends at the formation of iron nuclei in stars. The penultimate section looks at the formation of planets. Theories of the origin of planets are discussed, and the difficulties of modelling how planets form are mentioned. It is interesting to learn that our bodies (and all living organisms) more closely resemble the chemistry of stars than do the planets. The final section focusses on the origin of life. This is a hotly contested area with many interesting hypotheses. I suspect that we may be at a point where we can only learn how life may have originated, rather than the specific way it actually did. The possibility of communicating with non-Earth civilisations is mentioned.
The book has two authors: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith. I must confess that I only discovered Tyson after watching the new version of 'Cosmos'. This is something of a loss. He is a great presenter, and this book shows that he (along with Donald Goldsmith) is also an excellent writer. The book is a rich and very well written volume. I can only highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in Physics, Astronomy and Science in general. Indeed, it will reward anyone who has an interest in our place in the Universe and how we got here. An excellent work.
on 10 April 2011
The Origins of Life, the Universe, and Everything, written in a chatty and informative style.
The author relates the current theories of the early universe, the genesis of the elements, the planets, the stars, and (briefly) of life. On the way, we are told about antimatter, dark matter, and dark energy. He anticipates for us what the future may hold for the universe.
This represents a reasonable introduction to cosmology for a novice (like me).
I had tried other works before reading this, and found it covered much the same ground, hence for me it was a 'four star' rating - otherwise it may have been a 'five'.
on 10 June 2012
To start negatively, I was slightly disapointed after reading this book. Was expecting a bit more on this big and mystical subject that is "origins".
But being a very difficult subject, I would still rate the book as a 4 stars because I still learned a lot from reading it and the style of writing of the authors is enjoyable.
Theories and concepts are well explained and abordable by the amateur reader.