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TECH TALK: Good Books: Big Bang

November 24th, 2005 · No Comments

The last two book recommendations in this series are quite different. The first is the story of how our universe came to be. Simon Singhs Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe. Here is what the Publishers Weekly has to say (in a review on Amazons site):

It was cosmologist Fred Hoyle who coined the term “big bang” to describe the notion that the universe exploded out of nothing to kick-start space and time. Ironically, Hoyle himself espoused the steady state theory, positing that the universe is eternal and never really changes. Former BBC producer and science writer Singh (Fermat’s Enigma) recounts in his inimitable down-to-earth style how the big bang theory triumphed. Readers will find here one of the best explanations available of how Cepheid stars are used to estimate the distance of other galaxies. Singh highlights some of the lesser-known figures in the development of the big bang theory, like Henrietta Leavitt, a volunteer “computer” at the Harvard College Observatory who in 1912 discovered how Cepheid stars can be used to measure galactic distances. Singh shows how the creation of the heavier elements was a major stumbling block to widespread adoption of the big bang until Hoyle (once again boosting the theory that he so fervently opposed) proved that they were created in stars’ nuclear furnaces and strewn throughout the universe via supernova explosions. Readers who don’t need a review of the early development of cosmology may wish that Singh had adopted a somewhat less leisurely pace. But his introductory chapters hold a lot of worthwhile material, clearly presented for the science buff and lay reader. There’s no better account of the big bang theory than this.

On his personal website, Simon Singh writes: I decided to write a book about the Big Bang theory of the universe because it is one of the pinnacles of human achievement. I wanted people to understand the theory and to appreciate why cosmologists are confident that it is an accurate description of the origin and history of the universe. The book is essentially the story of the Big Bang theory. Like any good tale, the discovery and proof of the Big Bang theory has more than its fair share of curious incidents and peculiar characters. The stage was set for a major battle between the two camps Bang Bang versus Steady State. It would take the rest of the twentieth century to resolve the conflict, with both sides desperately searching for evidence to shore up their own theory and crush the opposition. The battle for cosmic truth would involve politics, religion, bitter disputes, nuclear physics, satellites, telescopes, a supposed echo from the Big Bang, and remarkable serendipity, resulting in one of the greatest adventures in the history of science.

Many of us are broadly aware of the Big Bang. Simon Singh takes us into a fascinating journey through the theory and the people who put it to together. ReviewsOfBooks quotes Scientific American: Singh spins out the drama with verve and wit. We meet scientists who are shy and retiring and others with a flair for contention, epic discoveries made serendipitously and beautiful theories shot down by intractable facts, a pooch named Kepler and a persistent pigeon that made its home in the Bell Labs telescope. This is a perfect book for anyone who wants to know what science is all about.”

Tomorrow: Raising Alex

TECH TALK Good Books+T

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