The universe is a big, lonely place. But don’t feel too small: Here’s a book that reassures us that we all have a part in it.
Cosmology asks Big Questions: What is the universe made of? How old is it? Does it have an end? Will it end? Are we all alone on this watery rock, whirling around Sol with no particular place to go? Such questions, raised for a popular audience, beg for the charms of a Jacob Bronowski. Noted cosmologist/astrophysicist Primack has no end of scientific credentials; yet, tempered by the humanities-tending interests of mythologist/philosopher Abrams, the science here tends to go hortatory (“To act wisely globally, we must think cosmically”) and sometimes a touch fuzzy (“All young people today are moving as a group up the worldline of Earth’s lightcone,” whatever a worldline of a lightcone is). Still, there are illuminating views to be found here of how the universe behaves and what it consists of: Think a mix of 70 percent “dark energy,” 25 percent “cold dark matter” and a smattering of “visible atoms” and life-enabling gases, and it’s small wonder that many people felt lost when the old cosmologies of Egypt, Babylon and Greece gave way to the impersonal talk of Big Bangs, red giants, black holes and the like. Primack and Abrams grapple gently with those who feel it unacceptable “even to think of having a cosmology based on science” while taking their narrative into some odd corners of science: It may comfort some readers to know, for instance, that extraterrestrials are likely to resemble us thanks to “simple scaling relations,” but others will simply be puzzled by the notion of the “Cosmic Uroboros” and the magical workings of a sprinkling of stardust atop the “Cosmic Density Pyramid.”
The scientifically inclined will prefer a more rigorous explanation of why things are as they are.