LONELY HEARTS OF THE COSMOS: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe by Dennis Overbye
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LONELY HEARTS OF THE COSMOS: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe

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From a senior editor at Discover magazine--a compelling history of the science of cosmology, from Hubble to Hawking, and of the wildly disparate personalities who have fueled it. ""He looked lean and Jimmy Stewartish, wearing a bomber jacket and grinning with dimpled cheeks, a spit of curl hanging over his high forehead. . .All that was missing was the cigarette dangling from the lower lip. His name was Allan Sandage."" In 1954, Sandage, the 28-year-old protege of Edwin Hubble at the new Palomar Observatory, was, as Overbye puts it, ""the first person in history whose job description was to determine the fate of the universe."" From Sandage's astronomical observations came the theory that the universe is expanding--a theory whose implications would inspire impassioned discord among his fellow heavenly explorers for decades. Overbye's own enthusiasm for such wide-ranging questions as how the universe was born, where it's going, and exactly what it's made of proves catching as he alternates philosophical beachside conversations with the stubbornly contentious Sandage with discussions of black holes with Stephen Hawking, explorations of ""superspace"" with John Wheeler, and a comprehensible translation of Ed Witten's superstring theory. ""To [Hungarian physicist] Szalay the physics life was not that much different from the rock-and-roll life. The dress, the hours, the hair, the sense of fraternity, the brothers who knew what and how you played, were common elements. New ideas had to be taken on the road. . .Afterward you jammed with your colleagues."" Overbye's witty, intelligent, and highly readable tale of the lifelong quest of a handful of cosmic dreamers (""the priests and mythmakers of our technological age"") makes the cosmological life seem by far the more exciting of the two. Guaranteed to inspire the uninitiated--this ranks with the best.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1990
Publisher: HarperCollins