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on 18 July 2011
This a very interesting little `pop science' book from an author who, having studied science at university, had left that world behind to pursue other interests and now decided to return to write about his former passion.

The opening chapter was a bit mixed, with no great structure to it, but interesting all the same. However, he does acquire a significant amount of structure later on the book. He does a whistle-stop tour of the major philosophical developments of science over the last 2,500 years or so, along with a brave and noble attempt to summarise quantum mechanics and general relativity for the lay reader; a task which he does with some aplomb and not a little dexterity.

From here, there was a slightly peculiar list of seemingly random things which were listed in order of size. Potter's aim was to look at bigger and bigger scales, effectively zooming out from our world to look at the wider universe. From here, Potter takes on a parallel journey, though instead of going from the smallest size to the largest size, he wants to take us from the earliest time right through to the present day, taking in an overview of the developments in cosmology and high energy physics.

Overall, the book is very much at the lightweight end of science writing, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable. It is spoilt a little by technical errors, though these are relatively minor (for example, he states that "Humans are often carnivorous" when he should have said omnivorous). The other drawback that is has, which is specific for his advocacy of the scientific method, is that he does not include references. All we have is a bibliography of further reading, where there is no linking between the books referenced and the relevant passages. The reader is left to work this out by the titles, I think. However, that would not stop me from recommending as a great book, especially a "starter" for someone not overly familiar with `pop science.'
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on 10 August 2016
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on 26 November 2015
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on 8 July 2010
A good overview for the lay reader of current scientic understanding of Cosmology, evolutionary biology and other fundamental topics. In the process it gives a good insight into the limitations of science and of human knowledge.
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on 22 March 2009
An unique book which lifts you up and beyond the educated layman's horizons of knowledge onto a magical journey between hard wired scientific theories about the earth and our biology. A treatise where the certainty of scientific experimentation is always measured against the fact that science not only creates new perspectives of objectivity but at the same time can and does destroy our selves and our environment. And, often deceives us in the name of Progress. The book is an astonishing synthesis of human intellectual development and the fact that with nothing more than their five senses to play with many of the early Greek philosophers intuitively knew as much as we do today. Don't be intimidated by the breadth of Christopher Potter's knowledge: even if you don't get everything you will end up knowing more than you thought and it is written in inviting, often mischievous prose, and punctuated by illuminating literary references that you may want to hang onto forever.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 January 2016
I am fascinated by all things astronomy, so this was a great gift purchased from Amazon for me. I didn't think it was possible to squeeze 13.5 billion years into one single book, but Christopher Potter has managed it without baffling the heck out of me. I like his layman's digestible language.

My mind has been dazzled by the infinitesimally small world of quantum mechanics and stretched in awe at the immensity of the universe. Packed into one book is an enormous amount of science fact, and I have been able to understand every word of it. This is a thoroughly fascinating and entertaining read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 November 2011
Four and a half ADVENTUROUS Stars!! Author Christopher Potter takes us on a short journey across 14 Billion years of time & space using hard science & speculation, unassailable facts & philosophy, while attempting to generally collate a huge amount of up-to-date data into palatable information for the layman. For the most part, he is very successful. This is an intensive and extensive look at our universe and our place in it: "You Are Here". Oddly enough, this book seems to stand on more solid ground than highly technical books because the author is not a scientist and he's explaining things in understandable language from a standpoint of known scientific findings as a 'summary presentation', often viewed through the prisms of philosophy and reason. This voyage takes us from the edge of the universe, which "is not contained in anything" to manmade and natural physical realities (the awesome chapter called "26 degrees of Separation"), to the birth of life and man on earth ("In and Out of Africa"), and beyond. The solar system, the galaxy, billions of galaxies, galactic clusters, super clusters, the Sloan Great Wall, quasars, black holes and more are taken on in plain, but awe-inspiring language. And there are many fascinating earthly & solar system diversions along the way. The book is laden with meaningful quotes, scientific references, previously unknown facts, and amazement at the reality of life and scientific achievements. Instead of being like a dry college lecture in an auditorium, it's more like a wide-ranging after-dinner discussion with a very well-educated friend. Does he gloss over some things? Yes, sometimes dwelling in trivial detail and repetition, but we also become aware of new things such as the existence of the black hole Sagittarius A and the incredible Sloan Great Wall. So "You Are Here"...on planet Earth...of our 8 (yes, eight) planet solar system...of the bending, spiraling Orion Arm...of the Milky Way galaxy...of The Local Group...of the Virgo Supercluster...etc., etc... Indeed! A very enjoyable read about our life on this earth and in the universe, and the life of the universe about us and it is Highly Recommended! Four and a half VOYAGING Stars!!
(This review is based on a Kindle download.)
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on 23 April 2012
I bought this book on a whim - I thought it looked intriguing. It turned out to be as thought-provoking as it was intelligent, witty and, literally, mind-blowing. More than once I had to put the book down just to digest what I had read, sometimes after just one sentence. I wasn't always successful but thoroughly enjoyed the journey. This book deserves several re-readings as it's just plain good.
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on 2 April 2009
The history of the universe, man's interpretation of it, his place within it down the ages, an overview of the interaction of the disciplines of philosophy, religion and science from Aristotle to the present day, an easily understood explanation of the physics, chemistry and biology that underpin our universe as we perceive it and all presented in an inquiring and undogmatic way.

Whew! What else does an interested layman need on the subject? This is one of the few "must keep" books one will ever read - that is if the reader values understanding the "meaning of life" in so far as he is capable of understanding it at all! That limitation is made abundantly clear.

Mr. Potter's writing flows, is unaffected (unusual for the genre) and reeks of authority acquired over a lifetime of dispassionate and intelligent observation. Also, surprisingly for a book that out-Hawkings Hawking, a stonking good read from start to finish. Wow factor 10/10.
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on 2 January 2010
Essentially this fascinating and lucid work covers the same sort of ground as Bill Bryson's excellent 2003 book "A Short History Of Nearly Everything" and it could be thought of as a rather shorter (less than 300 pages), bit more up-to-date (2009), and rather more philosophical history of nearly everything. The title, the cover and even the author's name seem to position this as a work of popular science - which it is - but at times it is a challenging read, especially the sections on quantum mechanics which admittedly is an impossible topic to discuss with any normal language which is how one can have a sentence like: "this is to stray into worlds of such great abstraction, even of imaginary time, that we might begin to risk madness".

The main building blocks for this hugely ambitious work, which covers everything from the furthest reaches of the universe to the smallest units of quantum physics, is a number of space and/or time series: 27 steps from the scale of 1-10 metres to that of over 10 billion light years to encompass a universe with between 30 and 50 billion trillion stars; 11 steps from the scale of 100-10 centimetres down to 10 to the power of minus 10 metres which takes us into the quantum world of quarks and electrons; seven steps from 10 to the power of minus 43 seconds after the Big Bang to 380,000 years after the mother of all explosions; 19 steps in the path of evolution from four billion years ago with single-celled life around hydrothermal vents to the present world of 6.5 billion humans and 1.8 million known species.

Surprisingly Potter is not a scientist as such - his first degree was in mathematics and his second in the history and philosophy of science - and this is his first book, but he writes with clarity and enthusiasm, exhibiting eclectic knowledge and explaining exactly what we do and do not know ("We can throw no light on dark matter"). How to summarise such a masterly exposition? As Potter puts it: "The universe seems to be a machine for processing information made out of some 10 to the power of 80 visible particles".
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