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Customer Review

on 24 July 2013
Everyone has an interest to some level in cosmology and astronomy. It's built into us, a quest to define our existence and find out where we're going. I'm no exception, and so I picked this up.

And it's a fascinating read. Impey takes us from the big bang to the present day, albeit indirectly, covering a vast swathe of topics.

But it's not for the complete beginner, something that is not immediately apparent from the layman-esq title and jovial cover art. There's so much going on in the book (as one might expect from a history of everything) and so many complex physical concepts, that you will do well to keep up unless you have a firm grounding in physics already.

This is probably no fault of Impey's - the complexity of the universe and our as-yet incomplete knowledge of its workings mean there is no escaping a confrontation with highly complicated, intricate concepts. Nonetheless, despite considering myself rather academic and with an above-average knowledge of cosmology, I must admit I took in only about 50% of the book.

Impey skilfully mitigates this with heavy doses of story-telling and relation to real-world contexts. This leads to some impressive and of course accessible numbers porn (the observable universe is 90 billion light years across; the nearest star would be 25 miles away if you condensed the solar system down to fit in your living room, etc). He also mixes in some revealing facts and anecdotes about the people throughout history that have contributed to our current understanding.

Also worthy of note is Impey's candidness about just how much we don't know. He talks openly about the hubris of scientists to explain pretty much everything, whereas we know next to nothing about some of the most fundamental questions of cosmology, physics and philosophy. Why are the laws of physics as they are? What is the universe expanding into? Is string/M-theory correct, meaning there are 6 or 7 hidden dimensions? Is our universe merely a quantum event in an infinitely larger context? These, as Impey concedes, as questions we may never answer - either due to technical or cognitive limitation, or both.

All in all, fascinating and entertaining. I can't imagine too many other books where I'd take in only 50% of the facts being explained but still make it to the end.
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