Will the universe please stand up? Size places, everyone!"" Such a fantasy seems to have been behind Cadogan's vision of how...



Will the universe please stand up? Size places, everyone!"" Such a fantasy seems to have been behind Cadogan's vision of how to present a wealth of biological, physical, chemical and astronomical data for the lay reader. His scale takes the reader through logarithmic jumps in the metric system. Each successive chapter represents a measure 10 times larger (or smaller) than its predecessor, allowing him to wax eloquent on the kinds of objects or relationships at the chosen level. Following an introduction in which he describes the history of measurements (including excursions on how stellar distances are computed), Cadogan launches his metric journey on a human scale. This one-meter dimension proceeds to the comfortable walking distance of early hunter-gatherer man, the size of towns, and so on. Along the way there are tidbits like the fact that the tallest man-made structure in the world today is a 650-meter radio mast in Poland. Then it's on to earth-size worlds (10,000 km diameters) that describe the inner planets and the larger moons of the solar system and the average size of white dwarfs. Truly astronomical distances are scaled as Cadogan moves inexorably to the present visible limits of the universe--the quasars 10 billion light-years away. This link of space and time allows him to make the point that the farther out one looks, the farther back in time one reaches so that we glimpse the universe in its youth. Part Two moves down the metric scale from dinosaurs to mammals all the way to plankton, and thence to the microscopic world of cells and microorganisms. Theories of atomic structure are condensed into a summary of the varieties of quarks, how they are put together to form protons, neutrons, and mesons and what some conjecture may lie beyond quarks--so-called ""rishons,"" for example (derived from a Hebrew word for primary). A final chapter relates big and small in a roundup of universe theories. The idea of using scalar jumps to order subject matter has been done before, which somewhat blunts the edge of originality here. On the whole, however, Cadogan's examples are well-chosen and his informed, easygoing style make for a volume that invites casual perusal as well as serious reference.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985