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Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, bringing in inflation (surely more doubted than ever before at the moment), string theory, whether the universe had a beginning and whether it's possible to create a universe from nothing. There's even a subsection labelled 'A proof of God?' where, not surprisingly, that 'universe from nothing' idea is used to counter what is hardly a rigorous 'proof' in the first place.

Being a textbook lite, although there are a fair number of equations, there is relatively little manipulation of them - certainly not enough to lose a dedicated reader with a good grasp of high school maths. The ideal market for this book is either someone who has read popular science titles on the big bang and wants to get more depth, or a student about to start on a physics course at university who wants to make it more comfortable to ease into the course. 

Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin should be congratulated on making a big step towards accessibility in a book like this. (Incidentally, don't go for the Kindle version - it's ludicrously expensive, and this is the kind of book where you benefit from having the physical version.)


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Review by Brian Clegg


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