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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2006
It has taken 13.7 billion years, but the Universe has finally produced a coffee-table quality book to commemorate the Big Bang and its consequences. _Bang! The Complete History of the Universe_ (Carlton Books) by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott is not massive, as coffee-table books go, but its big format is perfect for the dramatic sorts of pictures that the Hubble Space Telescope or the larger Earth-bound telescopes can give us. It isn't just pictures, however. The text does an exemplary job of covering a huge amount of information. Necessarily, in 190 pages laid over with photos, details are skipped; on one page are both the disaster of the Permian Extinction 250 million years ago and the Cretaceous Extinction (wiping out the dinosaurs) 65 million years ago. There is the most detail in the earliest pages of the book, dealing with the events before around 700 million years ago, when there started to be discrete objects like galaxies that we could have actually seen, had we been there at that time. (In a sense, we do see them at that time, as the Hubble's lovely deep field images can show.) This is also the part of the book that makes the least sense to those of us who are stuck in a Newtonian world. There are books with fuller explanations of the strangeness of the Universe immediately after the Big Bang, but none quite so much fun.

For fun is obviously part of the trip the three authors have taken, and it starts right on the cover, which above the book's title shows a huge, glowing, fragmented fireball, obviously the Big Bang in progress. "Our cover artwork is for fun only. There is no suggestion that any part of the Big Bang ever looked like this." Not only that, but it could never have been seen at such a distance, because there was no such distance; space did not exist except within that Bang. There are still gaps in our understanding of the Big Bang and how it produced all we are and all we see. "We must remember that it is impossible to prove a theory, and all one can hope to do is ensure it is consistent with all the available evidence." The evidence isn't all in, and they remind us, "...we would be amazed if in a few years time our book would not need to be substantially re-written." Given all the confirmatory data, it is hard to imagine that the big picture given here would be in error in any large way. After the main text of the book, there are a useful glossary, capsule biographies of the modern astronomers and cosmologists who have added to our understanding of the Big Bang, and a basic primer on practical astronomy that includes good directions about the topic "How to become an astronomer". This is upbeat, compared to the final chapter which has to do with the end of the Universe.

Much has been made in the British press about the personalities who produced the book, although _Bang!_ would easily stand on its own without famous authors. The least known is Chris Lintott, a working astrophysicist who assists Sir Patrick Moore in presenting a famous monthly BBC show _The Sky at Night_, which is now the longest-running science program in the world. Moore himself, because of his show and his hundreds of fiction and nonfiction books, is possibly the world's best known astronomer. The surprise author, for those who do star-gazing of the celebrity rather than astronomical type, is Brian May, who as a kid was inspired by one of Moore's books to take up astronomy. He was a founding member of the famous rock group Queen and a guitarist of some note. May was doing his PhD studies in interplanetary dust when Queen took off (he wrote such songs as "We Will Rock You"). He is currently updating and completing his thesis in between musical activities, although he does already have an honorary degree of Doctor of Science. If a little celebrity power gets people interested in the book, and interested in the huge amount of scientific thinking it reflects, I think it makes up for the additions to our culture made by, say, Britney Spears. _Bang!_ is a wonderful summary for adults and would be a terrific book for any reading young person.
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87 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2006
I can't remember when I was last so sorry to finish reading a book!

Well, the aim of Brian May, Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott was to make the wonderful story of astronomy available to the general reader - and since maths and physics dimwit me feels she has understood it, I think we can say they've done that!

BANG! is an incredibly beautiful book, worth getting just for the photographs of stars, planets and galaxies. It also contains useful diagrams explaining such things as timescales and star formation. Pictures really can't capture the cover of the book, which is a "lenticular explosion" - 8 pictures, starting with a tiny star and ending with a terrifying fireball - depending on the angle at which you view it. I spent the first few hours just playing with that before I actually got around to reading anything.

The first chapter ("Genesis: In the Beginning") which deals with the first less-than-a-second interval, is the hardest work, especially if you'd never heard of positrons and have to be reminded how standard form works. But they're very sympathetic. Without once going into actual maths, they put explanation boxes separate from the text, and diagrams where appropriate. Once the application of these difficult concepts becomes so clear, you really want to know!

Later, the pace changes from Planck time (ten to the minus forty-three seconds, and yes, you will want to know) to billions of years, and everything feels all over too quickly. Early on the Universe becomes transparent - that is to say, electromagnetic radiation can actually get through it - then the first generation stars begin to form, burn themselves out and die differently according to their size, and along come black holes . . . There is some discussion of how life may have come about on Earth, and how unlikely it is that all conditions will actually be right to support it. After that they predict the future of the Earth when the Sun completes its lifetime; how, judging by stars of similar size, the Sun is likely to die; and the possible fates for the Universe.

There is also a section on "Practical Astronomy", nicely placed at the end just when you are dying to be an astronomer and find more out yourself; some short biographies of the astronomers who made the especially important discoveries; and a neat little timeline. There is also a brief section on the authors on the back, and the odd photo of them having fun playing with telescopes, but no self-promotion or need for honour and glory at all!

No, I'm not one-sided at all. Lynn Truss might have something to say about some of the punctuation. Is that balanced enough? :-D

Oh, and like the very best science writing, there's the odd joke around. Look out for the one about the Galaxy bar. It still had me giggling the next day . . .
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2009
Bang! The Complete History of the Universe takes the lay reader through pretty much everything they could want to know about basic cosmology and current theories of the universe, from less than a second after the Big Bang to billions of years into the future. Unlike a Brief History of Time, this one can be read and understood! Equally important, with a generous selection of pictures, it can be enjoyed.

Holding this book in your hand, it becomes immediately obvious that a lot of effort has gone into producing it, from the "lenticular explosion" on the front cover, to the first class illustrations heading each chapter. The photographs of planets, stars and galaxies are glorious, and there are even a few taken by the authors themselves.

Bang! is more informative than most coffee-table books on this subject, but it still manages to avoid getting too bogged down in the detail. It does a good job in covering a lot of ground and covering it well, but there have to be limits for any book of this kind, and while it touches on some of the underlying science such as wave-particle duality, it chooses not to expand on it.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to readers both with and without a scientific background. The lay reader will find it an accessible read and an awe-inspiring introduction to cosmology. The more advanced reader will appreciate the work for what it is, and marvel at the photography. For those looking for something more in-depth, I would recommend Simon Singh's Big Bang, which is another excellent but very different kind of book.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2007
On first reading this book it appears to be a fairly exhaustive account of the Universe from the big bang, through the present day and on to the ultimate end of the Universe. Consider it a little further however and you realise it is only scratching the surface of what is known or believed about the origins and ultimate destiny of the Universe. I found the treatment of Hawking radiation, for example, cursory to say the least, and caused me to ask obvious questions not dealt with in the text.

This isn't a bad thing, however. It is an accessible summary that completely avoids the use of mathematics. It provides sufficient detail to capture one's interest and provides a solid foundation from which you can begin to consider the more obscure details.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 16 November 2006
The images of space are stunning, but more important the conceptual images and diagrams to help one understand the meaning of life and everything are a complete breakthrough.

Many of us have struggled with Steven Hawkins, but this suddenly makes the concepts of what we, as current mankind, understand truely come alive.

It makes one realise both how amazing and irrelevant we are, all at the same time.

A joy to read and absord.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 May 2010
Overall this is a good book, but i found it a little bit too simplistic. That said that may have been due to the fact that at the same time i was reading Big Bang: by Simon Singh which i have to say is really excellent, and therefore in comparison this book suffered.
The book is well set out with a logical continuity of the history. It is colourful with great pictures, but many times I was left feeling a little short of detail. I guess you can start with this book as an introduction and then explore each of the topics further in other books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2009
The three great and well respected authors of this book have come together to write a most engaging and understandable book. The hardback version announces itself with a dramatic animated image on the front cover which, as you tilt the book, changes from the tiny beginning of the universe to the big ball of fire shown in the picture of the book here.

The book is large with quality colour printing throughout. The terminology used is clear and easy to understand which makes the subject accessible for the young (9-10 years) and older non-scientists alike. I have a degree in physics and I've always been dismayed when fascinating subjects have been unnecessarily complicated by a language and style only a very few can tolerate. This book breaks down these barriers and is an easy read for what is a galactic subject!

Apart from having lots of nice pictures to look at, it provides a wealth of information without being a heavy read. An inspirational, educational and enthralling read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2011
I bought this book in the Oxfam shop (very cheaply I might add) and I have just finished it. I found it to be very good, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. However, I would like to add a few provisos to that statement.

Generally speaking, this is a book for beginners to the subject, who really wish to know more. It would also be suitable for those who know just a modicum, and wish to build on their knowledge. However, if you are already very knowledgeable about astronomy, the book can be a bit trying, because it spends a lot of time explaining basic stuff which you probably already know. If you fall into the latter category, you may find yourself saying "get on with it!" when reading the text.

I also noticed that the book sometimes has a tendency to swing from one subject to another in a slightly erratic way, rather like a weathercock in a gusty autumn wind. For instance, you might have the text on one page telling you about a particular aspect of the Big Bang, and a picture and caption which covers a completely different subject. All the same, the subject is a very large one (needless to say) and the book makes an excellent attempt to cover it all.

I like the strictly chronological approach, which is very sensible, and takes you from the instant of the Big Bang itself, to the far distant future.

Lavishly illustrated throughout, with colour pictures, diagrams and classic astronomical photos, the book sweeps you along. The text is informative without ever once being baffling, so you want to keep turning the next page.

All in all, this is an excellent book for those in the right knowledge band (non-expert) and only the above minor quibbles prevent me awarding the full five stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2008
As soon as I saw this book and read the reviews I had to buy it, On receiving the book you can tell immediately a lot of hard work and thought has gone into it, the book itself is beautifully put together the front cover has a striking hologram on the front, it's a well executed graphical representation of the Big Bang and is a really nice bonus.

I liked how the book puts forward fairly complicated astronomy and science in an easy and enjoyable way, without the feeling you're being spoken down to.

The book is ideal for a younger audience too as it's layout is striking while at the same time being useful and intuitive, there seems to be a very good reason for everything in this book. The science, the layout, the graphics and the stunning illustrations are all top class.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2013
So much for the stunning illustrations: there were none. The kindle version of this book has just a few black and white star maps and these are of poorer quality than those seen in Patrick Moore's books over 30 years ago.
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