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Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe Hardcover – August 4, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title of well-known science writer Clegg's newest is a bit of a teaser: as Clegg (A Brief History of Infinity) himself admits: we may never have a definitive answer to the question, What came before the Big Bang? But there are lots of theories running around waving their hands to be noticed and get funding. Clegg devotes the first half of his book to the problems that face big bang theorists (when did the bang happen? How big was it? what caused it?). He then gives equal time to those who are looking to send that theory the way of phlogiston. Many alternative origin-of-the-universe theories postulate either that there have been cyclical universes—each ending in a Big Crunch, followed by another Big Bang, or that our universe really exists in a giant black hole,or that universes can bud off one another.Most astronomy and science fiction buffs will bl familiar with this material, but Clegg's relatively jargon-free style makes for a good introduction for general readers, even if it leaves them still wondering what did come before the big bang. (Aug.)
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"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.  Anyone looking for an introduction to or a refresher course in cosmology need look no further." - Kirkus, Starred Review  

"Indeed, the existence of so many things, from dark matter to black holes to wormholes all has to be inferred. The Big Bang, too, is only provisional and seems to be waiting for a more graceful model to replace it. In Clegg’s words, the Big Bang theory “has the feeling of something held together with a Band-Aid. Whether what came before our universe was another universe or nothing, or something else yet unconsidered, for now the most accurate answer might be: We just don’t know." -Anthony Doerr Boston Globe, July 19



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312385471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312385477
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,352,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brian's most recent books are Dice World and Extra Sensory. He has written a range of other science titles, including the bestselling Inflight Science, The God Effect, Before the Big Bang, Ecologic, A Brief History of Infinity and Build Your Own Time Machine.

Along with appearances at the Royal Institution in London he has spoken at venues from Oxford and Cambridge Universities to Cheltenham Festival of Science, has contributed to radio and TV programmes, and is a popular speaker at schools. Brian is also editor of the successful book review site and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Brian has Masters degrees from Cambridge University in Natural Sciences and from Lancaster University in Operational Research, a discipline originally developed during the Second World War to apply the power of mathematics to warfare. It has since been widely applied to problem solving and decision making in business.

Brian has also written regular columns, features and reviews for numerous publications, including Nature, The Guardian, PC Week, Computer Weekly, Personal Computer World, The Observer, Innovative Leader, Professional Manager, BBC History, Good Housekeeping and House Beautiful. His books have been translated into many languages, including German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, Norwegian, Thai and even Indonesian.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
By the time I reached the last page of this book, I just wanted to go to Arizona, drive into the desert and marvel at the glory of the night sky.

The title is a bit misleading in implying a discussion of "the prehistory of our universe" when, in fact, the presentation is about the various contemporary theories attempting to explain what existed before the Big Bang - if, of course, there was a Big Bang. Some of the theories postulate otherwise.

Clegg, who has a physics degree, writes easily of the theories of the universe beginning with the dawn of recorded history. The earlier theories, involving gods and the like, were easier to digest, though Clegg makes an exception for the Egyptians who managed to imbue the Sun with a number of different gods. The Buddhists are given short shrift for not involving a pantheon of deities, but instead adopting a "because it's there" approach. Clegg moves on to describe the earliest efforts to determine the size of the universe. The history of humankind and its quest to determine the nature of the universe is fascinating and Clegg does well at describing the search for answers.

By the time we come to the recent era, the last three centuries or so, the reader has a firm grasp of where we were in our understanding and how we got there.

The explosion of scientific knowledge in the Western world began in earnest in the 17th Century and has not slowed. Clegg describes each of the giants upon whose shoulders the next giant stood; thus Bacon and Newton were the precursors for Einstein. Clegg employs an interesting device here, though I am not sure if it is of his own design or a natural result of explaining the increasing knowledge of the universe. Whichever it is, it works.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Clegg combines a history of myth ("a story with a purpose") and science as they struggle to come to terms with creation. His lively narrative strives by frequent metaphor and short chapters to convey an incredibly difficult topic. I never thought I'd be able to understand such astrophysical speculation based on quantum theory and thought-experiments, but thanks to Clegg's clarity, I could, more or less.

Parts of this study will inevitably cause the most nimble mind to quail, given models based on our universe being a 2-d holographic projection into 3-d for us to observe, or a "bit-it" parallel that imagines information itself becoming the building blocks of a universe constructed as we learn to conceive it, or one that is a "multiple universe" one based on the "choices" that a light wave may "make" as we watch it and try to measure it. Not to be confused with multiverses!

That Clegg shows us how this all came to be in the minds of astronomers over the centuries, especially most recently as satellites and telescopes begin to combine with CERN to hint at the previously unimaginable, is an achievement. He tells in a dozen relatively snappy chapters the pre-history of the theories that led to the Big Bang, and then the fudge-factor of lambda added by Einstein as he resisted the quantum mechanics that led to the breakthroughs that eventually eroded the Steady State Fred Hoyle theory in favor of the Big Bang.

Yet, the holes punched in to this model by math and logic, for some astronomers, have then whittled away even this paradigm.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on August 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
How did we come to be here?

This question is so basic and primal it's been addressed not only by all the world's religions but by science as long as science has been around.

In this short accessible book Brian Clegg reveals that while we still don't know for sure where we came from...and therefore what preceded the Big Bang...we do have some interesting speculations:

1) String theory could be right and our reality is just a subset of a larger reality we develop but some of the laws of physics. In this view, the ultimate sub-atomic particles...strings...are tethered to membranes that periodically move and sway like so many sheets of paper in a ream. They're next to each other but not connected because when they connect new big bangs are produced and along with them a reorienting of the laws of physics.

2) Our universe is an imaginary one concocted not from some set of physical laws but from the imaginative perspective of the observer. In this view, referred to as solopsism, the observer litterally conjurs a world into being.

3) Our universe is holographic and like the holograms that can be purchased in a novelty shop the apparent dimensionality is only an illusion...albeit, as Einstein might have said, a subbornly persistent one.

4) Our universe creates itself. In this view, hypothesized by J Richard Gott, each Black Hole in our universe is the porthole to a Big Bang in another universe. Owing to the unique nature of how physics laws break down in a Black Hole, according to Gott, it's possible that one of these Big Bangs is actually the porthole to our own universe meaning the universe actually created itself.
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