Well-written and highly entertaining history of progressively more successful efforts to date the earth and later efforts to do the same for the universe.
Starting with Bishop Ussher's 17th-century integration of archaeological discoveries with internal biblical evidence to derive his famous 4004 b.c.<\H> date for creation, Gorst, a writer/director of science documentaries, seamlessly narrates a journey from received wisdom to modern scientific inquiry. The Church and generations of biblical scholars attempted to reconcile the discovery of fossils and distinct geological strata with the biblical flood, resulting in the dominant catastrophist compromise, but in the late 18th and 19th centuries the new science of geology gripped the public imagination, and scientists bred more and more doubt that the earth was only 6,000 years old. Gorst's account works so well because he gives us the men who had the insights as well as giving us the insights themselves. George de Buffon attempted to measure the earth's heat dissipation in order to find a verifiable date; Charles Lyell's observation of the incremental processes shaping the land inspired his proposition that forces now in existence could have done the whole job. Theologians fought back: God created our earth out of a previous planet, they suggested; the first day was millions of years long, during which extinct species roamed the earth. But the paradigm was giving way. Darwin, thanks to Lyell, realized that the vast span of years necessary for natural selection was available. While 4004 b.c.<\H> continued to be printed in Bibles until the early 20th century, the battle ended, and with the discovery of radium, accurate dating methods revealed the earth to be 4.5 billion years old. The final section here concerns itself with dating the universe, the province of astrophysics and men like Edwin Hubble.
An epic tale, human stories, and science without equations: a likely candidate to fill the popular science niche so prominently occupied by Dava Sobel's Longitude.