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on 13 February 2006
This book manages to make some of the most complex science in human history accessible and understandable. I haven't studied science for 20 years but with some perseverance I managed to learn an incredible amount from this book. Also it is full of incident, and human drama, and humour, and all kinds of entertaining anecdotes which sweeten the pill when you have to wade through 500 pages of physics! Not only did I learn about the Big Bang theory (which I now realise is no more a "theory" than radio waves or electricity) but I found myself genuinely understanding for the first time lots of physics I had supposedly already "learned". And not just physics: geography, astronomy, history... It's not an easy read, but well within the grasp of most educated people: a book that repays your effort and then some.
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on 13 August 2005
This book by Simon Singh is absolutely brilliant and equally as enthralling as his other books. He has the knack of explaining complex things in simple and understandable language, and the summaries at the end of each chapter are excellent and useful. The book is long but each page is fascinating. You don't need any knowledge of science, physics or astronomy to appreciate it, just an enquiring mind. I can thoroughly recommend this book to everyone.
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on 1 April 2006
Particle physicist, Simon Singh, carries you on an interlectual journey through the creation and evolution of the universe. This is a powerful and insightful book into understanding science, and gives an elegant interpretation of the Big Bang theory - the explosive birth of the cosmos. Don't be fearful if your grasp of physics and mathematics is less than you would wish. The author's explanations are in simple to understand logic. Singh also gives the reader an engaging insight into the lives of scientists through the ages, and how the thinkining and religeous beliefs of the day, in many cases, was the enemy of enlightenment. Some of these great thinkers were ahead of their time and tragically became martyrs, others heroes in their own lifetime. Singh's book tells how science and the Big Bang theory have revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. It will stretch your mind and your imagination. A must for every home library.
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on 2 February 2007
I'm a Physics undergraduate, and upon reading Fermat's Last Theorem (also by Singh), I knew I was in for a treat when I picked this one up. As Fermat's Last Theorem was pretty much a brief history of maths, analogously Big Bang is a brief history of astronomy and cosmology.

As pretty much everyone else has said, Singh has a remarkable ability to convey every single one of his points and all of his information in an extremely clear and concise manner, and explains both simple and more complex concepts without sounding patronising.

One point I would like to make about this book is the sheer volume of reference to historical figures and discoveries in physics. Singh could quite easily have written this book without half as much of the historical background whilst maintaining the same level of content; however it is so right that such importance is given to these great thinkers, as we would certainly not be in the world we are in without them.

I think this book is perfect for people similar to my father (who I am buying this book for) who have (some) intelligence, are interested in educating themselves, but maybe do not have the physics background that some modern literature require.
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Who first looked up at the night sky wondering about those specks of light? Whoever and wherever that was, the quest for an answer has endured. Simon Singh traces the results of that search in very human terms. From early creation myths through the orbiting of machines that view the universe in selected frequencies, he explains how our knowledge of the cosmos has built and changed over four long centuries. Using an effective conversational style, he demonstrates how the slow accumulation of knowledge built our picture of the universe. With clarity came distance in our growing perception of the age and scope of the cosmos. After nearly fifteen billion years, the universe has had much time to expand. Whether that will long continue is one of the points of this excellent story.
Arranging his topics carefully, Singh ties concepts to their investigators. Early ideas were based on "common sense" and accepted authorities. Naked eye observation limited our ability to "see" the universe until the telescope was developed. "Decentralising" is an ongoing theme in this book as we learn how Western Europe came to understand the Earth was not the centre of things. Galileo's telescopic observations shifted that centre to the sun. When telescopes improved even the sun's location moved to the edge of the Milky Way. Singh demonstrates how each step was proposed, considered and contested, then accepted with additional data. With hindsight, the conclusions all appear obvious. At the time of each new concept's proposal, "established" views held sway until overwhelming evidence displaced them.
No proposal was so hotly disputed as the notion that the cosmos began as a tiny region which rapidly expanded - the Big Bang. Although first proposed in different terms by a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre, the idea of explosive beginnings of the universe were generally dismissed. The supporting evidence was lacking and other considerations impaired its acceptance. Not the least of these was the religious connotations arising from the idea of a "creation point". In fact, the term "Big Bang" was a derisive term applied to the concept by one of its greatest critics, Fred Hoyle. Hoyle, with a shifting squad of supporters, proposed a "Steady State" universe in which matter was continuously being created and annihilated. Singh uses a handy set of comparison charts to show how evidence and the issues are balanced in the two theories. Bound to both theses was the question of the universe's age.
In the years following World War II, however, technology generated by that conflict provided researchers with a fresh, if previously used, tool kit. Radio telescopy, a true product of "war surplus" equipment, led to new discoveries. Of the many findings, the one most damaging to Hoyle's Steady State universe came from two scientists trying to reduce static in transcontinental telephone calls. Singh's description of Penzias and Wilson combatting the homing, nesting and excretory habits of a pair of pigeons is typical of his conversational style. It's also a paean to the dedicated researchers who persevered to complete their task. Coupled with radio telescopy was the improvement in spectroscopy - the chemistry of stars. Contributing new information on stellar age had the bizarre impact of clarifying and obscuring the duration of the universe's existence.
Understanding the history of our learning the structure of the universe is one thing - grasping the physics and chemistry is quite another. Singh's great talent is being able to convey both with equal facility and clarity. He knows how to summarize without losing meaning. The "sketches" concluding each chapter are visual summaries that might have been his composing notes. The bibliography is useful, but with the number of books on the topics, it reflects necessarily limited choices. There are countless books on the history and physics of cosmology. Is this one preferable to most? Is it more important than the others? The answer to both questions is a vehement, if qualified, "Yes!". To someone new to the topic, Singh has provided an informative welcome. Does he justify his subtitle? That remains questionable, but it's clear he's correct in asserting "you need to know about it".
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on 4 January 2005
This is one of the most enjoyable popular science books I've read. Not only is it about the big bang theory itself, it also serves as a very informative account of cosmology through the ages, from the ingeneous methods of discovery of the distances to the sun, moon and stars to the famous contributions to science made by Copernicus, Gallileo, Rutherford etc. Even though I was already familiar with much of the science in this book, the relaxed, easy to read and often very amusing nature of the text made every single page enjoyable. We are almost always given an insight into the personalities of the men and women behind the discoveries, and Singh takes great care to show us the spirit and excitement of scientfic discovery.
The physics involved is very gentle, and the author makes a lot of effort not to lose the readers, with many explanations and metaphors making everything clear. As a result, the book should probably appeal to people ranging from those who know very little of cosmology to those who, like myself, may have read a few other popular accounts of the subject.
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on 17 August 2006
Simon Singh eloquently and engagingly weaves the story of the development of scientific understanding that leads to the theory of the Big Bang. This is the explanation of how the edifice was built, brick by brick. Clearly written, it does not assume detailed scientific knowledge, but explains concepts in understandable language.It should be required reading for all science teachers, not for the scientific content but for a demonstration of the art of the possible in simple explanation.

This book is up there with "The Ascent of Man" and "A Short History of Nearly Everything".

As an aside, this is also the best example of art of summarising material that I have ever seen - each chapter of around 80 pages is summed up in 2 sides of notes - without losing anything.
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on 6 October 2010
While Simon Singh's books are excellent, unfortunately the Kindle edition is not. All figures (diagrams and pictures) in the paper edition are missing, making the book difficult to follow.

One perhaps to get in paper format.
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I LOVE this book! Never have I started a review like this, but boy do I love this book. I read a LOT of books and this one had me gripped from the first page and kept me engrossed and stimulated the whole way through. Singh manages to explain complex ideas and theories in such a way that they are rendered clear and coherent and allow you to understand the difficult themes surrounding cosmology and the big bang theory. This book starts by looking at Copernicus, Galileo, Newton etc and showing how their ideas lead to modern cosmology research and development, it explores the development of telescopes and other measuring apparatus (more interesting than it sounds!) and how discoveries were made about galaxies millions of km's away from earth. It looks at opposing theories and the controversies surrounding them and how each theory gained ground and was either disproved or confirmed. This book is littered with anecdotes and humorous asides that add to the enjoyment of reading, as well as increasing your understanding. You also get a real feel for the excitement of discovery and of the various protagonists of the various theories and debates. At the end of each chapter you get a wonderfully illustrated and condensed summary that allows you to solidify the knowledge gained before going on to the next chapter, as well as allowing you to go back to this book and refreshing your memory. It has loads of clear tables and illustrations to explain particular points and various photos to compliment the text. Rarely have I enjoyed a book as much as this in the past few years and i've loved the sense of wonder and trains of thought it has lead me on. I could gush about this book for ages (as you may be able to tell!) but needless to say it comes HIGHLY recommended indeed.

Dedicated to Stephen A. Haines whose reviews inspired me to read some amazing science books and who will be greatly missed.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 1 June 2007
Simon Singh has put together one of the best books of the popular science genre. Tired of all the maternity literature, I bought the "Big Bang" in a desperate urge only the 8th month of pregnancy can ignite. And a wonderful read it was. He has the most complex formulas explained through a smooth narrative of historical development of the Big Bang theory. It is a most compelling evidence of a beautiful marriage the natural and humanitarian sciences may have if put together this masterfully. The best thing about it is that I now can fearlessly answer to my curious little ones' questions on where we come from and why.
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