The State of the Universe: A Primer in Modern Cosmology Hardcover – 23 Mar 2006
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Deeply interesting (THE GUARDIAN)
Authoritative, accurate, clear and up to date (THE INDEPENDENT)
Ferreira does a good job of balancing the likely with the improbable. (FINANCIAL TIMES)
a short, clear and logical introduction which assumes no background knowledge and uses simple analogies to explain unfamiliar ideas. (OXFORD TODAY)
A masterly overview of the development of cosmological thinking from the Greeks, via Newton and Einstein, to the present day.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The drawback of the book, if you are interested in the last findings in cosmology (and this is what the title suggests), is that most of it is dedicated to the history and even ancient history of the topic. Issues such as the non zero cosmological constant and the multiverse hypotesis are treated very fast in the last chapters, just telling the raw facts, not commiting to any interpretation. The final moral is "we still don't know", which may be true, but the reader of popular science books expects something different.
I was very impressed with the amount of information packed into its 320 pages and the excellent coverage of: special and general relativity, space-time and the standard model of particle physics, and the building of elements through nucleosynthesis. He has researched all the topics extremely well and has many interesting anecdotes as well as the biographies of some 38 astronomers/physicists important in the development of cosmology.
It gives a very erudite coverage on quantum mechanics and the true nature of the vacuum of space as well a fascinating discussion on what dark matter might be. I have never read about the intriguing Casmir effect before and the book covers many topics like sound waves in the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) and the polarization of the CMB.
My only reservations are in the lack of clear diagrams and the occasional mistake e.g. page 173 heat up a piece of metal `going from bluish, to red, to almost white' is the wrong colour sequence and on page 175 Mars, Jupiter and Venus are further from the Sun (obviously Saturn not Venus!) and measuring temperature in degrees Kelvin which should be just kelvin.
This marvelous book was written by an astrophysics lecturer and a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and it is as the title describes a Primer in Modern Cosmology and I fully recommend it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The increase of knowledge about where we live has made people uncomfortable over the centuries because it has involved the realization that we are not as supremely important as we might like. Not only is the Earth not the center of everything, the everyday matter that we think of as the building blocks of everything around us is not the main stuff of the Universe at all, despite our telescopic views of planets, moons, and galaxies. Counting up all the atoms in our Universe shows that 99% of them are helium or hydrogen, not at all what we expect in our idiosyncratic and self-centered view. And that's not all. Galaxies, including our own, are bigger and heavier than they appear; the way they spin around shows that there is much more mass circulating within them than we can see. There is a big problem, though: we don't know what the dark matter is. The weakly interacting particle called the neutrino has been proposed, or perhaps the neutralino, or the axion, or other strange matter described here. Don't worry if you can't understand what this dark matter is; your cosmologist guide says, "We have no real idea of what it is or how to see it."
Ferreira's book is an appealing and up-to-date primer. Part of its attraction is that it has an orderly progression of facts and understanding, without the "Gee, Whiz" exclamations of awe that are prominent in other books covering the same topics. He is content to let the explanations, many of them startling and strange, suffice in provoking the awe. His explanations are clear, although the material progresses in increasing bizarreness and difficulty. He eventually mentions such concepts as string theory or an even stranger "loop quantum gravity", and the idea that our universe may be just one of millions out there (just as we discovered that our star or our galaxy was just one of millions of similar objects). And finally, he is careful to show that although there is much we have discovered that is completely reliable, with some properties and constants having been measured to great precision, there are still huge areas of questions that we have barely begun to understand.
The book employs the story of the string of discoveries that lead to our current understanding as a narrative (starting with Aristotle), which makes the discussion not only interesting but also fairly accessible. Even without a solid background in either physics, math or astronomy (I have a university degree in computer science), the book was easy enough to understand for the most part. For example, Ferreira made me understand relativity better than any of the TV documentaries I have seen on the subject.
It is only in the last parts that I lost it, as the discussion about dark energy and some other advanced subjects were too hard for me to understand. That's not a problem for me though. First of all, it shows that while the author went to great lengths to make the (sometimes tough) science easy to understand without "dumbing it down" too much. Secondly, it makes a reread worthwhile (in fact, I have already read the first half of the book twice already).
All in all, cosmology is is one of my favorite fields in all of science, and this book does a great job telling the story of its development, and compellingly makes the case for the current state of our understanding.
"...Venus has phases, like the Moon. To understand this, let us consider the Moon. The Moon, as any of the other planets, shines because it reflects light from the Sun. At different times of the month, the Earth obscures part of the sunlight in such a way as to cast a shadow on the Moon. If the Earth moves exactly in front of the Sun, the Moon is completely darkened by the shadow. This is what is known as the 'new Moon'. In the exact opposite case, the Moon is completely illuminated by the Sun, with no intervening shadow cast by the Earth. This phase is known as the 'full Moon'. During the intermediate phases, slices of varying sizes are darkened."
I quote the passage at length, just to make clear that the author wasn't talking about some ancient's understanding of the phases of the moon. He was presenting this as fact.
At that point, I stopped reading. How could I trust anything that someone with such an egregious misunderstanding of something as simple as the phases of the moon says? Next time, I'll read the book before I give it to some impressionable youngster.
When Ferreira finally gets to his topic he lists a mess of the latest guesses without giving much evidence pro and con. He evidently aims at the mathematically most illiterate portion of the public by writng large numbers with with a plethoria of zeros leaving the reader to count them, instead of using simple exponents which most of his readers should have studied in the seventh grade.
The book confirms my opinion that books on these subjects either must go into the math which unfortunately is beyond college calculus, or confine themselves to questionable word analogies which usually do not work. This book does the latter.
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