Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Before the Big Bang – Brian Clegg ****

It's always a bit of a struggle to know how to review books written by our editor, Brian Clegg. For this book we’ve gone for a summary of what it’s about and a few quotes from an independent review in Kirkus Reviews.
This is the thesis of the book:
Since astrophysicist Fred Hoyle coined “Big Bang” as a term of abuse for a theory that he despised, it has become everyday usage. Although few of us really understand what the Big Bang was, it is now accepted wisdom that this was how the universe began. But the idea of Big Bang doesn’t so much answer questions as raise new ones. If the universe as we know it originated in the Big Bang, what came before? And the Big Bang is not set in stone. It’s just the current favorite of a number of theories that explain the origins of the universe. At one time a taboo subject, science is now prepared to look back past the beginning – to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything with something more satisfying than Douglas Adams’ cryptic 42.
It includes:
  • Why there is more doubt about the Big Bang theory than is often stated
  • How our current best ideas on the origins of the universe came into being
  • How the universe could have been started by a collision of membranes in multidimensional space
  • Why the Matrix isn’t necessarily all fantasy
  • How the universe could be in a black hole or a hologram
  • How ‘before’ is meaningless in the standard Big Bang theory

… and much more
And here’s part of the review:
Excellent popular history of how humans understand the universe…
British science writer Clegg (Upgrade Me: Our Amazing Journey to Human 2.0, 2008, etc.) excels in recounting the struggle over our universe’s origin, which most—but not all—agree lies in a vast primeval expansion known as the Big Bang. Readers may roll their eyes as brilliant scientists propose explanations of how the Bang led to the universe we see today, only to confront new, unsettling astronomical phenomena—dark energy, dark matter—that create questions faster than they can be answered. The author emphasizes that, unlike relativity or evolution, Big Bang cosmology is not a coherent system backed by overwhelming evidence but a clumsy, ad hoc premise whose gaps are plugged with theoretical band-aids or simply left open to frustrate scientists. Clegg follows the footsteps of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Timothy Ferris’s Coming of Age in the Milky Way. He shares his predecessors’ enthusiasm, eloquence and ability to explain complex ideas but provides a bonus by covering startling developments of the past decade…
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Review by Kirkus

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