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Afterglow of Creation – Marcus Chown ****

This is the story of the cosmic background radiation – the ‘afterglow’ of the Big Bang in which the Universe was born – and how it was discovered.
Chown brilliantly weaves a tale of the search for the origins of the Universe, from the early years of cosmology (remarkably less than 100 years ago) to the flight of the COBE satellite and its crucial discovery.
This is the supreme detective story of cosmology. It begins in 1924 with Hubble’s discovery of galaxies and continues through to the 1992 discovery of extremely distant remnants of the Big Bang, ripples in space/time that provide a tantalising echo of the first beginnings.
Like all the best popular science, the book is as much about the people involved as the science itself. Afterglow finishes with a description of the resulting publicity and wrangling among team members who felt that one team leader, George Smoot (who had described a “map” of the ripples as “like seeing the face of God”), was hogging the spotlight. It’s a very relevant reminder that scientists may attempt to be objective in their work, but remain human.
Now newly republished in an updated edition, this book was nominated the prestigious Rhone Poulenc prize for science writing (now the Royal Society Prize).

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Review by Brian Clegg


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