87 of 92 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Bang! The Complete History of the Universe (Hardcover)
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 . . .