GENESIS by John Gribbin


The Origins Of Man And The Universe
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Gribbin is a knowledgeable scientist (with a degree in astrophysics from Cambridge) and a competent expositor (with several popular books on astronomy behind him)--as well as ambitious and optimistic, as anyone attempting a one-volume history of man and the universe would have to be. So it's not surprising to find that the first chapters surveying the grand sweep of the cosmos from Big Bang to our present solar system are commendable in level and content. We learn what happened in the first few seconds following the cosmic fireball (acknowledging such excellent sources as Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes). And in general we intuit that it is slight perturbations, singularities, ratios of particular elements (such as hydrogen to helium) which make all the difference in the evolution of galaxies, of star populations, and of that particular stellar dust cloud that condensed to form our middling-sized, middling-bright sun and the family of planets. Gribbin is good at discussing the elementary, laws of chemistry and physics that underlie the microevents that lead to the formation of chemical compounds or to the layered structure of Earth and its atmosphere. But when it comes to the origin and evolution of life, Gribbin is less satisfying. Though he is highly informed (even to the latest speculations on the death of dinosaurs), personal bias and the need to condense lead to a deceptively simple logic and the embracing of games theory models like the "selfish" gene survival theory of Dawkins and others. Since Gribbin has earlier plumped heartily for the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe theory of life-seeding molecules in the heart of comets, we know we are in speculative realms. And toward the end we see more such hopeful enthusiasm as Gribbin opines that intelligence may carry the day, hold back the ice age, create more equitable conditions on earth, and so on. It's his hope, too, that the universe will turn out to be closed so that we can expect a succession of collapses and Big Bangs. Ultimately, then, a book that pleases for many things the author does well, but one to be tempered by dipping into other sources for other points of view.
Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0385283210
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1981


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