Skip to main content

Einstein’s Telescope – Evalyn Gates ***

Subtitled ‘the hunt for dark matter and dark energy in the universe’, this is a book that doesn’t fulfil its promise. It does have a quite reasonable explanation of general relativity, but that’s just a sideline for the main topic of dark matter and dark energy, and the problem here, I think, is that it is, as yet, a failed hunt. It’s a bit like a true crime book about a murder that was never solved – tantalizing, but never delivering.
Because we don’t know what dark matter and dark energy are, it’s a difficult one to carry forward. This isn’t helped by a certain fixedness of viewpoint. It would have been more interesting if Evalyn Gates had opened up some of the many uncertainties in cosmology, but she presents the Big Bang as effectively certain, telling us ‘[the cosmic microwave background] effectively nailed the case for the Big Bang model’, when it equally supports pretty well all the main alternative theories, and though she briefly opens up the MOND ideas of variations in gravity being responsible for the effect seen as dark matter, then dismisses this in rather summary fashion.
It’s a shame she didn’t spend more time on the alternatives, because this means she is left repeating herself over and over again on the amazing way dark matter and dark energy make up so much of the universe. Take out all this repetition and what’s left verges on an extended magazine article. I personally was not overwhelmed by her style, either. In an attempt to be populist, Gates uses some weak metaphors. For example, she likens the slowing down of light when passing through a material to the slowing down of a politician as she passes through a crowd, glad-handing the people – which I just found embarrassing.
And a final moan – surely it’s time for more imagination in book titles. We’ve had Einstein’s Moon, Einstein’s Refrigerator (two different books of the same name), Einstein’s Heroes, Einstein’s Mistakes, now Einstein’s Telescope… Einstein’s had enough.
A lost cause? No. Not entirely. If you specifically want a good summary of the search for dark matter and the effect of gravitational lensing particularly, plus one of the better attempts I’ve seen at explaining general relativity, it’s hard to criticize. But it’s really only for those with a particular interest in the subject, not for the casual reader.
Paperback:  
Review by Peter Spitz

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…