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BEFORE THE BIG BANG by Brian Clegg Kirkus Star


The Prehistory of Our Universe

by Brian Clegg

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-38547-7
Publisher: St. Martin's

Excellent popular history of how humans understand the universe.

Primitive cultures defined it simply as the earth and the sky. Early astronomers realized some heavenly bodies were more distant, and the ancient Greeks settled on a universe that encompassed the solar system—the sun and planets. European astronomers long suspected stars were more distant, but it was William Herschel (1738–1822) who described the Milky Way. Herschel theorized that our galaxy was one of many, but it took another century for astronomers led by Edwin Hubble (1889–1953) to prove it. British science writer Clegg (Upgrade Me: Our Amazing Journey to Human 2.0, 2008, etc.) excels in recounting the struggle over our universe’s origin, which most—but not all—agree lies in a vast primeval expansion known as the Big Bang. Readers may roll their eyes as brilliant scientists propose explanations of how the Bang led to the universe we see today, only to confront new, unsettling astronomical phenomena—dark energy, dark matter—that create questions faster than they can be answered. The author emphasizes that, unlike relativity or evolution, Big Bang cosmology is not a coherent system backed by overwhelming evidence but a clumsy, ad hoc premise whose gaps are plugged with theoretical band-aids or simply left open to frustrate scientists. Clegg follows the footsteps of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Timothy Ferris’s Coming of Age in the Milky Way. He shares his predecessors’ enthusiasm, eloquence and ability to explain complex ideas but provides a bonus by covering startling developments of the past decade.

Anyone looking for an introduction to or a refresher course in cosmology need look no further.