Just-the-facts rendering of the latest conventional wisdom about the descent of man from the birth of the universe.
Some popular-science authors blend journalism and science to show how current theories rest on a substructure of human discovery, but Adams (Physics/Univ. of Michigan) prefers to tell his story with minimal reference to the personal drama of the scientist. This Sgt. Friday–like approach sometimes leads to the distressing use of such phrases as “according to current thinking,” which turn science into a faceless source of indisputable information. De-emphasizing the human factor does, however, have the advantage of foregrounding the cosmic story, as Adams also did with coauthor Greg Laughlin in The Five Ages of the Universe (1999). He takes us from the universe's nativity story to the formation of amino acids on Earth. In the microseconds after the Big Bang, such initial conditions as an imbalance of quarks over anti-quarks determined the success of the cosmic structure formation. Many have noted the improbability of the fine-tuning at each cosmic stage that makes possible bio-friendly planets like Earth. For instance, a variation in the relationship between the four fundamental forces of gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces would upset galactic and stellar formation, perhaps dooming the chances for life's emergence. Adams mitigates against this improbability by positing ours as simply one universe among an indefinite population of different kinds of universes (the “multiverse”) that have arisen, and continue to arise, from quantum turbulence in the background “space-time foam.” Unlike E. Schrödinger or Lee Smolin, distinguished physicists who have contributed to the debate about the origin of life, Adams doesn't formulate a unique or original answer to the mystery posed by his subtitle; he merely gives us the physics that will necessarily condition any possible solution.
For informed astrophysics buffs, who will care less about the pedestrian narrative style than the payload of pertinent information.