THE SECRET MELODY: And Man Created the Universe by Trinh Xuan Thuan

THE SECRET MELODY: And Man Created the Universe

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This readable survey of cosmology (and the astronomical evidence on which it is founded) shows an unusual awareness of the larger philosophical context in which scientific ideas are worked out. Thuan (Astronomy/Univ. of Virginia) is well known in France (where this book first appeared) both for popular science books and for TV appearances. It is easy to see why, if the present volume is a fair sample. He begins with a vivid description of his work at a modern astronomical observatory, where he and his colleagues are more likely to settle down in front of a bank of instruments and computer keyboards than to step outside for a direct view of the sky. Still, the emotional impact of the night sky is at the root of the appeal of astronomy and forms the source of its speculations about the universe we inhabit. Thuan quickly surveys the many ways in which past civilizations have interpreted the findings of astronomy, from the mythological universe of the ancients to the deterministic model of the late 19th century. He outlines the structure of the cosmos as revealed by increasingly more sophisticated instruments and techniques, smoothly explaining such central concepts as the Hubble constant and black holes. Thuan shows a particular willingness to grapple with some of the larger philosophical and religious issues implicit in any discussion of how the universe began and how it may end; his argument for the anthropic principle (that the universe is designed to produce intelligent living creatures) is tantalizing, although the principle itself seems to depend on circular reasoning. Likewise, his willingness to speculate on the ultimate fate of life in the universe sets him apart from many astronomers, who shy away from such questions. Clear, comprehensive, well written (and well translated), this is a fine introduction to the key issues of modern cosmology.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.