978-0-14-026989-5 / 0140269894

In Search of the Big Bang: The Life and Death of the Universe

by Gribbin, John

Publisher:Penguin Books



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About the book:

As an astrophysicist by training and subsequently a science journalist for Nature and editor for the New Scientist, John Gribbin is well equipped to give an overview of the remarkable growth and development of ideas over the last decade or so concerning the origin of the Universe. Space exploration and associated new technology have produced so much new data that it is hard for the general reader to keep pace with it all.

Gribbin is an expert guide who knows how to explain complex ideas in simple terms without being carried away with inappropriate analogies and without being condescending. Not unreasonably, the reader does have to make an effort as well. Sensibly, Gribbin does however gradually build up his story from the basics, such as The Second Law of Thermodynamics. The discovery of the depths of the galactic space, the realm of nebulae which Gribbin evocatively calls "the cosmic landscape" and the idea of an expanding universe follow. The history of modern cosmology from Einstein's "Theory of General Relativity", the measurement of the age of the Universe and other developments lead up to the possibility of the "Big Bang".

Like all good stories, the excitement is maintained by the way it is told, with the introduction of historical and personal details of the scientists involved. Gribbin's own history allows him to provide something of an insider's view, which few other non-academic writers have. For instance, he can write of a visit to Cambridge in 1967 to hear Wagoner, Fowler and Hoyle present some results relating to the Big Bang, at which Gribbin recalls "the penetrating questions asked an unknown Cambridge research student, Stephen Hawking".

The problems of the Big Bang theory and the attempts to resolve them, the discovery of background microwaves, quarks, black holes andcosmic string theory fill the latter third of the book. As Gribbin says despite rumours that the Big Bang theory is "terminally flawed", it is "very much alive and well". Not only do we have a good idea about how the Universe began but we have- as Gribbin shows in this new and revised edition of a book first published in 1986--"a fair idea of how it will end". Chapter notes, a bibliography and excellent index help negotiate one's way. --Douglas Palmer

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