Skip to main content

Before the Big Bang - John Gribbin ****

In this compact (50 page) ebook, veteran popular science writer John Gribbin takes on the period in the current best-accepted theory of the origin of the universe, the hot big bang theory, that came before the big bang itself.

Although I also wrote a book called Before the Big Bang, I'm not overly miffed as this is a totally different approach. Where my book was about the historical context leading up to the big bang theory, plus alternative models of the origin of the universe, some of which have more of a 'before' than the vanilla big bang theory, Gribbin is filling in a much misunderstood aspect of this central cosmological theory. As he frequently points out, the 'big bang' in question is not the beginning of the universe, but the point after inflation when things get seriously hot (though it's not totally clear that Fred Hoyle meant this at the moment he coined the term).

Gribbin starts us off with a bit of background, revealing, for instance, in a more robust fashion than usual that Lemaitre and not Hubble was the discoverer of what is now known as Hubble's law. He then gives a clear picture of the nature of the big bang itself, based on a book by Soviet cosmologist Igor Novikov that dates back to the late 1970s, and remarkably is still pretty much in line with current understanding.

From there, Gribbin gives us an excellent exploration of inflation and some of the reasoning behind the possibility of a singularity (or at least near-singularity) for the actual beginning of our universe, followed up with a good summary of the multiverse concept, and how it could be driven by different possible kinds of inflation, all brought up to date with useful analysis of the BICEP2 mis-discovery of evidence for inflation.

Gribbin could have been a little less definitive about some of this, because however much cosmologists like to think they've left their reputation for speculation behind, there is still some (highly educated) guesswork in the field. When Gribbin says 'The story of the Big Bang is as well established as any story in science,' it feels a bit like when at the start of the twentieth century budding physicists were told 'there are only a few minor details to sort out, but basically we've got physics cracked.' And then relativity and quantum theory came along. So for instance, on dark matter, Gribbin comments 'we now know... that the Universe also contains something called dark matter', where I think it would be more balanced to say 'we now think...' but generally speaking the only other negative here is that because the book(let) is so short, it is quite condensed information, so is not as easy a read as the author's full length books.

If you've got the price of a cup of coffee to spare, why not give your caffeine addiction a miss and spend it instead on something that really will improve the mind? There'll even be some change.

Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…

The Science of Food - Marty Jopson ****

This is a tasty little volume, packed with kitchen-based science. I must admit, when I saw that the author was the One Show's science expert and Marty Jopson's author photo has that 'Hey, I'm a mad scientist, kids!' look, my heart fell - I was sure the book would be the written equivalent of a 'Wow, look, aren't I clever, I can make this go bang!' science show - but, in fact, it's packed full of (appropriately) meaty scientific content.

I was really pleased that Jopson didn't stick purely to the chemistry of cooking, but launched with the working of some familiar kitchen gadgets - there was genuinely fascinating reading to be had about apparently humdrum equipment in the form of the physics and materials science of a knife and chopping board. And Jopson took us into industrial kitchens too, to reveal, for example, the remarkable process required to make puffed wheat.

Inevitably, the chemistry of cooking - how, for example, proteins denature and em…