Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Universe, Life, and Everything

By John Gribbin (Author) , Mary Gribbin (Author)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-300-08101-4
Publisher: Yale Univ.

Gribbin, assisted by his occasional co-author Mary, tops himself with this one-volume summary of the current state of scientific knowledge. Author of numerous science books for the layperson (The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything, 1999), Gribbin steps back to show the broad perspective of what science knows about the universe, from the subatomic level up. After stating the central principle of science (“If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong”), Gribbin begins with the concept of atoms and elements, which led to much of modern science. As useful as the atomic hypothesis was, it wasn—t until Einstein that it was widely accepted as a factual description of reality. By that point, there was a growing body of evidence that the atom itself was a complex entity, made of smaller particles. The activity of one of those particles—the electron—is responsible for all of chemistry. Thence Gribbin leads the discussion to organic chemistry, through the structure of DNA, and thus to genetics and evolution. In such small but closely connected steps, the discussion goes on to geology and the history of the Earth, to astronomy and stellar evolution, all the way to cosmology and the structure of the universe as a whole. Gribbin is quick to make connections among the various sciences he discusses: for example, the simple quantum mechanical reason for the vital fact that ice floats—without which life as we know it would certainly be impossible. He smoothly introduces anecdotes about the scientists responsible for various theories and discoveries, and draws usefully on everyday experience to illustrate his material. And while he provides sufficient detail to give the various subjects immediacy, his eye is always on the big picture—how the world fits together and what it means to each of us. A definitive treatment of the subject, clearly and elegantly written. If you’re going to own just one general science book, you’d do well to make it this one.