Customer Reviews: Atom : An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth...and Beyond
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on March 31, 2001
The idea of following the adventures of an atom from the Big Bang to far future certainly isn't new. David Darlings "Deep time: The Journey of a Subatomic Particle from the Moment of Creation to the Death of the Universe - and Beyond" (Delacorte, 1989) was there a decade ago. Still, Krauss tells a good yarn and has a chatty, user-friendly style that never lets his reader get too lost in the physics of this cosmic trek. Not perhaps for those who keep well abreast of the latest science, but a painless introduction to cosmology, quantum physics and the evolution of life for the neophyte.
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Lawrence M. Krauss showed in _The Physics of Star Trek_ that he could nimbly handle the exposition of big ideas in physics. He has now picked perhaps the biggest assignment a science writer could tackle: the cosmos from beginning to end. In his audacious new book, Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth... and Beyond (Little, Brown and Company), Krauss has hitched onto an oxygen atom from the very beginning and perhaps even to the end of it all, showing the history and destiny of matter. It is an exhilarating ride.
To take the start of the atom requires, of course, that Krauss explain about what went before. His explanation of Big Bang weirdness is as clear as one can get. He goes on to explain how both quarks and antiquarks were formed, with quarks in an almost inconsequential majority but enough to make all the matter we see around us now. It was an accident that things turned out so, and Krauss's history is a list of strings of accidents to produce a world we can't help but see as full of design and consequence. It is no surprise that throughout his pages he has exclamation points; his own surprise at all he describes is refreshing and sincere.
The oxygen atom which is the focus of this big story has to be traced to quarks, and then to the eight protons and eight neutrons that would make up its nucleus. The protons and neutrons in the oxygen atom weren't close originally. They may have been galaxies apart in the hydrogen and helium atoms that constituted all of the original universe, and that clumped together to make stars. These nuclear furnaces started churning out heavier elements, include our oxygen atom, which joined with a couple of hydrogens on a snowball traveling around our solar system. The comet crashed into Earth, the water became part of the ocean, the oxygen got to be part of the acid rain, and became incorporated into the mantle of the earth. Then it was gobbled by a microbe to start its participation in all the life cycles. Krauss speculates that long after the sun (and we) are gone, the oxygen atom will be speeding away, and maybe its protons and neutrons will wink away into even smaller dust.
Krauss's enthusiasm for his tale is wonderfully infectious: "Can each of the atoms in the air I breathe really have gone through hell and back, braved the bitter cold of space, the brutal heat of stars, have crashed into the Earth, have dredged down below the continents and ocean floor merely to rise again? Have these atoms been a part of countless lives and seen countless deaths? Will they travel throughout the cosmos that I would give my eyeteeth to explore?" This exciting view of the very strange cosmos we live, in seen through the vicissitudes of one atom, ought to be a science classic.
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on April 4, 2001
This is a monumental new book which should become a science classic. It is ambitious and broad ranging, yet lyrical and accessible at the same time. It a remarkable piece of science writing by a well known scientist. The scale and breadth of the topics covered compares favorably to Sagan's Cosmos, while the cultural references that help add a human touch are reminiscent of Bronowski's books. This is a story that captures our place in the cosmos by focussing on the life history of a single oxygen atom. In so doing, it personalizes a truly cosmic tale that goes well beyond physics, covering much of modern science. It is certainly Krauss' best book to date, even better than The Physics of Star Trek. The reviewer who indicated it is not new is also off base. Comparing it to books written a dozen years ago is silly. Much of the science discussed here was not even speculated about a dozen years ago!
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on April 13, 2001
Lawrence Karuss' "Atom" does a masterful job of reporting all the amazing numbers that govern the size and evolution of the universe, from Big Bang to Life on Earth to The End. He reports them in language that made me appreciate how big a number with a lot of zero really is. He follows one atom, from the Big Bang all the way through Life and beyond. He makes a lot of comments that give perspective on cosmic history and are funny too. His book encompasses physics, the development of the planets, and the causes of the origin of life -- an unusually large sweep for a book, but he pulls it off.
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on October 25, 2014
First, “Atom” is one of the two best science books I’ve ever read. (*) Krauss is both an excellent writer and an outstanding story-teller. The majority of this book is compelling, at least to a science geek like me. Carl Sagan famously said, “We are all star-stuff.” Krauss uses the fictional life of an oxygen atom to explain to the reader HOW we all came to be made from star-stuff – how we came to be here – and speculations about the future and fate of the Universe.

Second, this is definitely a geek-book and will be of interest only to those who desire to know the details how our world came be.

This book was published in 2001 before the days of Kindle, so the Kindle version leaves something to be desired. I’d recommend a hard copy.

(*) my favorite science book ever …. “Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder” Paperback – April 5, 2000 by Richard Dawkins

Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth...and Beyond [Kindle Edition] By Lawrence M. Krauss. Review by John H Evans – October 24, 2014
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on May 8, 2015
Okay, so I couldn't give it a 4.5 star rating which is where I would actually put it. Krauss is a skillful writer. In this book, it did seem to go slowly at times; but, overall, this is a fascinating concept. Following the creation of the constituents of an oxygen atom, the primordial atoms from the big bang, through it being a part of a supernova and star dust, star and planet systems and being a part of living cells and on to the ultimate destiny at the end of the universe as we know or can know it, all of this kept me wanting to read instead of mowing the lawn or other interesting jobs around the house and property. It's like what I always wished I could do, follow a toy boat from the local rivulet into creeks, rivers and eventually the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, only more interesting.
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on July 31, 2001
I've looked for a book like this one for a long time. The book's scope is fantastic - covering the Big Bang to the evolution of the solar system. The author does an admirable (and detailed) job translating results from simulations of solar system evolution. My main complaint is that sometimes following those oxygen atoms around was confusing and distracting. Overall, though, I recommend this book.
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on March 26, 2013
The author describes the big bang; then when an oxygen atom is formed, he follows it through the remaining history of the universe. A few parts were a little too detailed and slow, but for the most part, the narrative went smoothly and kept my attention.
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on March 30, 2001
This book is a biographical look at the oxygen ATOM. The book takes the reader from the pre element stage during the matter-antimatter battle that many physicists believe led to the Big Bang through current theories and future speculations. The tome is well done and written for more than just the Ph.D. in physics as it tries to explain complex particle and quantum theories to a wider public. The oxygen atom's story really takes off once the primordial soup spills into the making of the universe.
This is an excellent primer that contains some sections with difficult understanding for the average non-science oriented reader and areas of guess work by Lawrence M. Krauss to fill the knowledge gaps without offering contrary theories. Still, anyone wanting to grasp the cross-discipline nuances between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch will find Mr. Krauss' homage to the life cycle of the oxygen ATOM an overall entertaining and insightfully easy book to read.

Harriet Klausner
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on September 5, 2001
This is an odd book. It is another brave attempt to tell the whole story of creation, this time using the oxygen atom as a main character. In some ways it works as a literary device, but in some ways the concept of the single atom just gets in the way and seems attached to the story even when the author no longer has anything interesting or useful to say about oxygen. The idea of following a single atom is more of a marketing device. There are parts that are well written, some that remain confusing, and more complicated than they need to be. I did like some of the material on the formation of the solar system. But, of course, the author is not able to do much with inflation. Actually nobody has, yet. Nothing new on quantum mechanics. (I thought his comments regarding our daily intake of material from someone else's sweat and sperm to be in poor taste even if highly original. His ideas of what can make a story more entertaining can be a little off. A good editor would have helped here. ) There is also a distressing lack of even simple charts and graphs and timelines which would have helped keep track of many concepts far better than referring to the atom as a unifying concept. A good budget would have helped here. Krauss is an earnest writer (I prefer Quintessence), and he knows what he is talking about. But with a little care and genuine interest from a good publishing house this book could have been much better.
Incidentally, Atom in no way compares to Jacob Bronowski's classics either in style, gravitas, or subject matter. If you are interested in the history of science or just the history of science writing you would do better to read them first before you begin to make comparisons with anything written in the last twenty years.
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