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on 30 July 2004
In 'The First Three Minutes' Steven Weinberg takes the reader through a (quite) modern view of one of the most enigmatic subjects in physics - the origin of the universe. First of all he takes you on a tour of some of the key events in (quite) modern cosmology that led to the picture of the young universe we have now. The discovery of cosmic red shift was an amazing revelation and showed that all the galaxies seemed to be speeding away from each other. Then the accidental detection by Penzias and Wilson of a low level radiation that seemed to come from everywhere in the universe put the 'Big Bang' model firmly ahead of rivals like the 'Steady State' model. They had tuned into the radiation from the adolescent universe.
Then the first three minutes themselves are played like a film which is repeatedly paused to allow the reader to see what's going on. What's going on is subatomic particles and high energy photons colliding billions of times a second in a thick bath of heat. After everything has cooled to just three hundred million degrees Kelvin the author looks at the scientific discoveries in this story from a historical perspective and asks some questions he sees as very important like 'why wasn't anyone looking for the cosmic microwave background?' Then finally he looks the other way into the future and to what it might reveal about the beginning of time. His 'film' of the Big Bang starts at one hundredth of a second after its start and in this last chapter he asks what could have happened before this time and how we could discover it.
He says in the epilogue that he "didn't intend to write and easy book" and this is true - the evidence and the theories are quite detailed - but he is a very good writer and really knows what he's talking about so I didn't get very lost. There is a mathematical section at the back that looks at the ideas discussed in the book like black body radiation and critical density and it is pretty tricky but he purposefully keeps it very separate so it can be skipped if you want to avoid a headache. This book was first published in '77 and so some of it is dated - you realise how quickly physics moves on. Quarks are a very recent theory at the time of writing and strings are nowhere near but this doesn't matter at all. It is still accepted that the stuff in this book is true but it has been expanded on in the last twenty-five years. It is a tribute to Steven Weinberg's mind and writing that all of his predictions of the future of cosmological research have happened and all his theory is correct still.
If you're at all interested in cosmology or particle physics then this is defiantly for you. If you think a much more cutting edge view is what you want then go for something more modern but you'll be missing out. As a reviewer in the seventies put it, when it comes to the describing the Big Bang "it's hard to imagine the job being better done". Exactly - deserves a place on your bookshelf.
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on 27 July 1998
A masterpiece. Weinberg was able to keep all the physics, with almost no mathematics. There is, in this book, a sense of drama seldom to be found in scientific books. You should start your cosmology studies here, independently of how far you intend to go.
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on 17 August 2015
Nicely structured with just enough detail/repetition to allow non-scientists with maths and physics at A-Level etc to follow. This is not for those without any background knowledge though. Or close-minded creationists who choose to ignore what science can observe!
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on 7 May 1998
The topics are fascinating. However the leverl at which this book was written, it seems that it was intened to descuss some rather serious astronomy with the layman. However, the book is not written either at a scientific leverl, nor a level that a layman could appreciate. It is caught somewhere in the middle where it is tedious to read through for someone who craves some math and physics, and equally difficult for someone who does not follow some of the major leaps in reasoning. Although the book begins by paraphrasing a lot of scientific detail, it reverts to mentioning some key terms and briefly explaining them, leaving a lot unsaid and sometimes ununderstood. From a scientific reader's view, this was the most successful attempt to write material that has the inherent quality of being difficult.
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on 17 September 2008
This book in cosmology requires some knowledge in undergraduate level physics, where the author chronicles the very early history of the universe while describing the underlying physical concepts. In the light of epoch experiments to be conducted with new Large Hadron Collider (LHC), during October 2008 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, located in Geneva, Switzerland, this book lays a foundation for some of these experiments. The LHC will create the conditions of less than a millionth of a second after Big Bang when there was a hot soup of tiny particles called quarks and gluons. The particle collider LHC will expect to generate a numerous particles after two beams of protons collide after travelling for 17 miles at the speed of light. The data will provide evidence for the existence of additional dimensions and also Higgs Boson, the particle that explains why matter has mass.

The most interesting chapters in the book are the First Three Minutes (Chapter 5) and First One-Hundred Seconds (Chapter 7). Standard model of cosmology proposes that the universe is made of four natural physical forces; weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic force and gravitational force. When the universe was 10(e-43) seconds old (the first moment of the universe), it was at a temperature of 10(e32)K, and all the four forces were proposed to be in a unified manner. The author is one of the pioneers in this field of research and he theoretically demonstrated the existence of unified of weak and electromagnetic forces for which he was awarded Nobel Prize. At above critical temperature of 3X10(e15)K, these two forces were symmetrical and had the same strength, and the symmetry broke as the cooling of the universe decreased the heat below the critical temperature. During the very first minute, when the universe was in thermal equilibrium, the numbers and the distribution of all particles were determined statistically and not by prior history, i.e., reality as perceived by cause - effect relationship did not exist. The abundance of present day helium, neutrinos, microwave radiation, and the relics of the state of equilibrium ended at close of the first second. As for as we know nothing that we can observe depended on the history of the universe, isotropic or homogeneous nature prior to this time except the proton nuclear particle ratio. The universe probably started with equal number of protons and neutrons, and the conversion of neutrons to protons occurred through its interaction with other particles such as; electrons, positrons, neutrinos and antineutrinos and not through neutron radioactive decay. Hydrogen and helium was produced in abundance prior to the evolution of galaxies and stars. Stars evolved using hydrogen as a nuclear fuel to generate energy and their existence, simultaneously producing the heavier elements as products of nuclear fusion.

The detection of background cosmic microwave radiation (CMR) in 1965 was one of the most important discoveries of 20th century. From the known properties of black body radiation using the early temperatures close to the origin, physicists have calculated the density of the photons, and the ratio of photons and nuclear particles at this time of the universe. Chapter 6 gives a historical development that predicted the existence of CMR, a remnant of the big bang, and also history of cosmological theories of nucleo-synthesis of heavier elements. This book is widely read by both academics and others, and often quoted by clergy in their sermons. Recent advances in cosmology has rendered some data obsolete, but it is very well structured with useful glossary of physics terms and concepts, a mathematical supplement, and suggested books for more enthusiastic readers.

1. The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics
2. An Introduction to the Standard Model of Particle Physics
3. An Introduction to the Standard Model of Particle Physics
4. The Rise of the Standard Model: A History of Particle Physics from 1964 to 1979
5. Modern Elementary Particle Physics
6. Supersymmetry and String Theory: Beyond the Standard Model
7. An Introduction to Relativistic Processes and the Standard Model of Electroweak Interactions (UNITEXT) (UNITEXT)
8. Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction
9. Deep Down Things: The Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics
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on 16 July 1997
Steven Weinberg is just incredible. He is able to bring complex material that high level physicists have trouble imagining to the general public. His book is easy to read, though not easy to understand. This isn't "High Energy Physics for the Complete Idiot," but it does provide simple conceptual (not mathmatical) arguments which help explain the first three minutes of the Universe. If you ever wanted to know what those physics professors do without having to take all their courses...this is the book for you! I recommend it highly.
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on 2 January 2011
It is an extraordinary fact that we, a small scrap of biological matter inhabiting a negligible space in an obscure corner of the Universe and having come into existence a mere eyeblink ago, we can comprehend the whole Universe right from its very beginning!

Steven Weinberg (1979 Physics Nobel prizewinner) has written a gem of a little book first published in 1977, a classic that deserves to be on every shelf and that everyone should read. He explains, using only school arithmetic, precisely what happened at the Big Bang, and precisely how we know it.

In a mere 50,000 words or so, a little book, Weinberg shows how the longstanding belief in an eternal Universe was overturned. This old belief underpins Newtonian (and Aristotelian) physics, and was universally believed until about 1950. But the discovery by Penzias & Wilson of the Cosmic Microwave Background in 1965 dramatically overturned this consensus and replaced it with a Universe finite in both time and space.

Of course, Penzias & Wilson's observation of the CMB was only the final piece in the puzzle of the new cosmology. The expansion of the Universe first proposed by Hubble with his explanation of stellar redshift in 1929 (together with Penrose & Hawking's gravitational singularity theorem in 1970), the understanding of stellar nucleosynthesis summarised by Hoyle, Fowler and the Burbridges in 1957, the observation of the H/He ratio in the Universe by Suess & Urey in 1956, and the theoretical prediction of this first suggested by the famous Alpher Bethe Gamow paper of 1948 which also made very clear that the early Universe had to be hot, all made an environment in which the importance of the 1965 CMB observation could be immediately recognised.

Subsequent discoveries and developments have served only to underline this new consensus; for example, the strictly black body nature of the CMB was established in 1990 at extraordinary accuracy by the COBE ("Cosmic Background Explorer") satellite. There are many profound problems remaining in cosmology, but however it is understood it is clear that our Universe had a beginning in time.

In my opinion, Weinberg's book is a tour de force of an elegantly simple explanation of the biggest fact underlying who we are. And he doesn't tell us fairy stories : he doesn't oversimplify. This is really the way things are, and you can understand it too! Buy the book!
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on 24 July 1998
This is a great book that explains the origin of the universe even the layman can read it, but if you are more advanced there's a mathematical suplement in the back.
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on 4 June 1999
Steven Weinberg is one of the great physicists of the 20th century. "The First Three Minutes" is really written for the undergraduate physics major and is too difficult for most people. For non experts, there is a wonderful account of this early cosmology in "The Bible According to Einstein." It is about 50 pages long and is narrated in a wonderful language.
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on 21 February 2010
The origin of the universe, according to the latest scientific findings (as of 1977). Written by the eminent physicist Steven Weinberg, two years before he got a Nobel Prize for the theory unifying the electromagnetic force with the weak nuclear force, a subject only tangentially related to the cosmology with is the subject of this book. Though obviously not up to date (there is an afterword written in 1993, however), the big bang theory expounded here nevertheless remains the mainstream scientific theory of the origin of the universe, and if anything have been reinforced by later data. Though the exposition is not mathematical (a mathematical appendix is included) the book is nevertheless heavy going, requiring a great level of concentration on the part of the reader. My very personal problem with this book is that I find this scientific view too uninspiring. On one side, I suppose one must feel awed that scientists have discovered with such detail what has happened to the universe as far back as its first three minutes. But the scientific view presented here has a pointlessness and purposelessness that can give the reader a feeling of sadness. As author Weinberg famously noted at the end of the book, the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
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