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Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe Paperback – June 1, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0142004463 ISBN-10: 0142004464 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004463
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Did the universe really begin with a bang, and will it end with a whimper? Well-known science journalist Seife gives a comprehensive survey of "theories of everything" from the ancients to the latest discoveries. He explains why some scientists now theorize that the universe may have begun-and may end-with a "big splat," and explains the "ekpyrotic scenario," which says a parallel universe, like a giant membrane, may be floating toward our universe. The recent, highly publicized discovery that the universe is expanding at an ever faster rate seems to support this idea. Another theory of everything that is sure to be encountered more and more frequently in magazines and newspapers is "M-theory," which combines the weird worlds of supersymmetry and string theory. According to supersymmetry, every particle has a twin superpartner endowed with very different properties than familiar subatomic particles. This helps solve the question of where the missing matter in the universe is, since the baryonic particles that we are able to detect make up only 5% of the total. String theory postulates the existence of membranes unimaginably minuscule and curled up in multiple dimensions. Seife also explains how large-scale projects in Louisiana and other sites are aimed at detecting gravity waves, one of the holy grails in science. In an appendix, he lays odds on which scientists look destined to win a Nobel Prize for their discoveries and the areas of research that we will probably see in tomorrow's headlines. In short, Seife provides lucid explanations of very complicated topics for the science buff or well-rounded general reader.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Science journalist Seife's narrative about the fundamentals of cosmology will appeal both to readers basically oblivious to the subject and those who keep up with it--from the grandstands of popular science literature, at least. This dual appeal stems from the author's exceptional clarity and the convulsions-shaking cosmology in recent years. Supernovae hunters who look for the exploding stars to fix the rate of the universe's expansion have been startled to discover that the expansion seems to be accelerating, upending the conventional wisdom that it ought to be decelerating. At the subatomic end of the scale, Seife presents the experiments planned by particle physicists to account for such an unexpected result, which verily demands the existence of an as-yet-undiscovered repelling force. Seife's news about conjectures on the space-time frontier and his solid presentation of established phenomena will fulfill any library's need for a readable introduction to scientific knowledge of the universe's origin and destiny. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Charles Seife is a correspondent for Science, a London--based international weekly science magazine. He has written for Scientific American, The Economist, Wired UK, The Sciences, and numerous other publications. He has a masters degree in mathematics from Yale.

Customer Reviews

He wrote this book keeping in mind that 'regular' people will be reading it.
nfoar77
He has a smooth writing style that makes the book very easy to read even with the difficult concepts presented.
Joe Sherry
On the negative side, the graphics could be much better; often, they help little in illustrating the concepts.
Crazy for science

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Crazy for science on August 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This history of modern cosmology is engrossing. The book is clearly, and often eloquently, written and it is up-to-date (till February 2003, the time of going to press). This helps because many important discoveries have taken place recently. It also helps that Seife is a trained mathematician since modern physics is so closely tied to mathematics. So, for example, most popular science books wrongly explain Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, but Seife gets it right. The book is particularly strong in describing various experiments and telescopes, how they work, and how they are expanding our understanding of the universe. On the negative side, the graphics could be much better; often, they help little in illustrating the concepts. There are also some spelling mistakes. Overall, however, I recommend this book highly.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By C. Dunn on July 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I am a skeptic. I have a mind of my own, and I like authors who treat the reader with respect. If I wanted religion, I would go to church. I want to be convinced.

In particular, I am very skeptical of the whole big bang idea. I've been exposed to some of the evidence, but it has always seemed relatively scant to me.

No longer. Seife has convinced me. The big bang, basically, probably, did in fact occur.

His deep respect for skeptical scientists, my heroes, runs through the whole book. Seife acknoledges that much of the old evidence was really not overwhelming. When he refers to very recent experiments which disprove moribund but reasonable ideas (some of which have occurred even to laymen like me) he does not criticize the scientists who had held out hope. Actually, he seems to admire the tenacity of the iconoclast.

The icing on the cake is the list of ongoing and future experiments. This section may soon be outdated, but for now it has the effect of including the reader in the scientific pursuit. I am now very excited to learn the results of some of these experiments, though they may be years away.

If you just want to admire the insights, go with Hawking. If you want to dream, try Brian Greene. If you want to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new cosmological era, read this book.

Why only 4 stars? The book becomes less convincing in the final chapters. But it is the best I've found.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Charles Seife's new book on cosmology is strangely paradoxical, a book that should be outstanding but trips itself up on the way to excellence. First off, Seife is without doubt a fabulous science writer, blessed with that rare ability to take seemingly impenetrable concepts and express them in a manageable, interesting, comprehensible way for the lay reader. He has a good command of his subject and an enthusiasm for it that's contagious. Seife discusses cosmological theories ranging from ancient mystical and religious philosophies (like Ptolemy's simple geocentric model) to the data- and mathematics-driven theories of the 20th century. He suggests that we are in the midst of a major revolution in our cosmological worldview comparable to the Copernican Revolution of the 1500s and the Big Bang theory of the early-mid 20th century. He cites the recent (apparent) discovery of an accelerating cosmic expansion as evidence that our understanding of the universe's basic structure is undergoing a major revamp.
Seife is at his best when he discusses work on the recalcitrant mysteries of the so-called dark matter and dark energy. Our equations seem to suggest over 90% of the universe's mass and energy consists of something other than the matter and energy that we're acustomed to, the stuff that we can see with our telescopes and fit into easily-defined particle physics models. The so-called "dark matter" doesn't emit light and does not make its presence obvious, while the "dark energy" seems to represent something in the fabric of space that's pushing it outward-but nobody really knows. Seife delves into the latest research on these phenomena and presents some plausible explanations, while shedding light on the most fascinating efforts currently taking place among different groups.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Science writer Charles Seife, author of the award-wining Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (2000), begins with two chapters on pre-modern cosmology followed by a chapter on Hubble's discovery of the expansion of the universe using the new 100-inch telescope placed atop Mount Wilson in 1917. Seife sees Hubble's discovery as "The Second Cosmological Revolution." In Chapter Four we learn, thanks in part to the Hubble Space Telescope, that the Hubble constant is not so constant after all and is indeed larger today than it was in the past. Conclusion: the universe is not only expanding, but is accelerating in its expansion. Seife calls this "The Third Cosmological Revolution." The chapter is subtitled, "The Universe Amok."
Maybe the universe is indeed running amok, or maybe it's the astrophysicists and cosmologists themselves who are possessed. Too much data too soon may have untoward consequences, especially when one is feeling about in the dark with limited instruments focused on an immensity perhaps beyond human comprehension.
First there is the problem of the so-called dark matter. With the curvature of the universe at one, meaning that it will expand forever and eventually after many an eon die a cold and lonely death, there will be no big crunch, no bounce, and no time reversal. This is okay. However, when cosmologists go looking for the correct amount of matter and energy to support this flat curvature they come up a little short. About ninety percent short, in fact. In other words nearly all that there is, is not only invisible to our perception, it is completely mysterious except that it does indeed influence gravitationally the rest of the stuff in the universe.
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