Skip to main content

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…

Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you   
Review by Kirkus

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Sticky - Laurie Winkless *****

There has been a suggestion doing the rounds that if you don't get into a book after the first few pages, you should give it up - because life's too short. If I'd followed this suggestion, I wouldn't have discovered what a brilliant book Sticky is. I'll get back to that, but it's worth saying first why Laurie Winkless's book on what makes things sticky, produces friction and grip - or for that matter lubricates - is so good. Without doubt, Winkless is great at bringing storytelling to her writing. She frames her information well with interviews, visits to places and her personal experiences. But of itself, that isn't enough. The reason, for example, I was captivated by her section on the remarkable (though oddly, given the book's title, entirely non-sticky) adhesive qualities of the gecko's foot was really about the way that Winkless takes us through the different viewpoints on how the foot's adhesion works. We get plenty of science and also

Laurie Winkless - Four Way Interview

Laurie Winkless ( @laurie_winkless ) is an Irish physicist and author. After a physics degree and a masters in space science, she joined the UK’s National Physical Laboratory as a research scientist, specialising in functional materials. Now based in New Zealand, Laurie has been communicating science to the public for 15 years. Since leaving the lab, she has worked with scientific institutes, engineering companies, universities, and astronauts, amongst others. Her writing has featured in outlets including Forbes, Wired, and Esquire, and she appeared in The Times magazine as a leading light in STEM. Laurie’s first book was Science and the City , and her new title is Sticky , also published by Bloomsbury. Why science? I was a very curious kid: always asking questions about how things worked. I suspect I drove my parents mad, but they never showed it. Instead, they encouraged me to explore those questions. From taking me to the library every week, to teaching me how to use different tools

The Car That Knew Too Much - Jean-François Bonnefon ****

This slim book is unusual in taking us through the story of a single scientific study - and it's very informative in the way that it does it. The book makes slightly strange reading, as I was one of the participants in the study - but that's not surprising. According to Jean-François Bonnefon, by the time the book was published, around 100 million people worldwide had taken part in the Moral Machine experiment. The idea behind the study was to see how the public felt self-driving cars should make what are effectively moral decisions. Specifically, in a dilemma where there was a choice to be made between, say, killing one or other person or groups of people, how should the car decide? As a concept, Bonnefon makes it clear this is a descendent of the classic 'trolley' problem where participants are asked to decide, for example, whether or not to switch the points so a tram that is currently going to kill five people will be switched to a track where it will kill one perso