Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE EDGE OF THE SKY by Roberto Trotta


All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is

by Roberto Trotta

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-465-04471-9
Publisher: Basic

A simplified but by no means simplistic introduction to modern cosmology and physics—the flagship sciences of the “All-There-Is.”

Trotta (Astrophysics/Imperial Coll., London) hits on a happy conceit: namely, to use Wikipedia’s tabulation of the 1,000 most common words in the English language to describe such things as the Big Bang—“flash,” that is, a more common word than “bang”—and dark matter, to say nothing of relativity, entropy and a host of related concepts. The effect is a bit Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome–ish, as when Trotta describes the difference between professional astronomers and ordinary civilians: “Student-people are different from other people. They spend their entire life asking questions, and as soon as they have found out the answers, they start all over again with new, harder questions.” To test the answers they propose, these “student-people” use such things as “Big-Seers” and “Far-Seers” to get a good look at distant “Crazy Stars.” Thus, for instance, on the matter of curved space: “To tell whether Mr. Einstein’s idea was right, student-people had to look at those stars around the Sun with a Far-Seer to see if they were in the place Mr. Einstein said they would appear to be.” So they were—and so, it appears, are things like “Mirror Drops” and “Dying Stars.” Sophisticated readers may find that a little of this singsong goes a long way, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the people who require such simplified talk would ever care to ponder the questions Trotta raises, much less read a book about them. Still, it’s an interesting experiment and one that doesn’t last painfully long: The book barely qualifies as a book at all, just squeaking past booklet status.

An entertaining exercise, in the end, for those student-people who like to ponder the All-There-Is while testing the always-inadequate limits of language.