Cronin's study of the cosmos--part of a personal quest--is executed with the easy grace and competence of a seasoned popular historian, English-style. For the most part, the book consists of a straightforward, text-like chronicle of how major civilizations have viewed their origins and destinies from ancient to modern times. Beginning with the pre-Socratics, Cronin presents both biographical details and summary statements about the Ionians, then Pythagorus, Plato, and Aristotle. Overall he contrasts the Greeks' often mundane views about the gods, sea, and sky with the fearsome dichotomies introduced by the Babylonians, Mithraism, and the rise of astrology. In the ""Dark Ages,"" Cronin notes, the West tended to ignore heavenly phenomena (apart from the portents of comets and eclipses); the Western world view, correspondingly, placed Jerusalem at the center and gave pride of place to the East, associated with Paradise. (Romanesque churches were duly sited toward the East, and their portals were suitably adorned with creation and paradise themes.) The thinking of major and minor philosophers continues to unfold through the ages, accompanied by appropriate literary reference to reflect dominant world views. Only in the last chapter does Cronin cast the whole in personal terms--perceiving, with disquietude, a vacillation between chance and certainty. He would like to see order and purpose in the universe; and as he quotes Camus, Beckett, and Ionesco, as he describes his coming-of-age at Oxford when logical positivism held sway, one feels the deep personal angst. Then, just when faith seems to be winning out, he journeys to the Royal Greenwich Observatory and comes away humbled by a chat with a friendly astronomer. ""However sure one might feel that the cosmos was underpinned by design, there would always be a nearly equal sense of contingency, an awareness that any theory was surpassed by the reality."" Thus the book comes to no pious conclusions, but does present a kind of existential optimism--a ""surge of excitement"" that would ""accompany newer and more complete world-pictures."" For cosmic wonderers, then, a fine yeasty wander down the ages with an amiable, intelligent guide.