Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction
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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2005
First, be warned that Amazon has mixed up two very different books here. Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction is the 139-page paperback I am reviewing. The editorial review refers to Cosmology: The Origin and Evolution of Cosmic Structures, a 520-page hardcover. At the time of writing this review, Amazon have the two books confused and you will find the same editorial and user reviews under each. So if you order one, make sure it's the right one.

Anyway, Cosmology VSI is excellent. Laymen's guides to physics usually resort to metaphors that are seriously misleading. The alternative is a highly mathematical approach that is inaccessible to most readers. Coles manages to simplify without misleading. Actually, some basic knowledge of physics is assumed, at least if you want a full understanding of what is being said, but it is never beyond high school level and most of the book does not require even that.

Covering relativity, quantum theory, particle physics and much else, this is a perfect introduction to a vast and profound topic. My only complaint: cosmology is a fast-changing subject. A new edition is needed very soon.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2006
I never would have expected a book with chapters discussing physics concepts to be enjoyable or understandable. Nor did I expect a book on cosmology to include that type of thing in the first place, which shows how little I knew about the topic before I read this. Needless to say, understanding the concepts author Peter Coles presents and actually wanting to know more about them was a pleasant surprise.

This book flows smoothly from topic to topic, and the author does a good job of explaining things at a level detailed enough so you get some of the science behind things but not at a level so in depth that the average reader would be lost. A few helpful diagrams are also scattered about the book in places which would otherwise cause confusion. Where applicable, Coles gives brief introductions to various competing theories and points out both their strong and weak points.

Despite being "a very short introduction," the book is very solid and thorough. The information presented is well organized and builds upon itself, so essential concepts are reinforced even as new ones are discussed. After finishing the text, I skimmed through the index and found that I actually remembered what most things listed there were. The only exceptions were names of people, and those aren't exactly essential to understanding the subject matter.

I started this book without a completely accurate idea of what cosmology is, and I finished it knowing far more about it than I expected to. As such, I must say Coles was extremely successful in writing "a very short introduction" to cosmology, and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2004
Professor Coles' book on cosmology in the VSI series is a very good introduction to the subject. If you search for a first book on the subject, that's it (although you can also choose Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time and the contents of these two books could complement with each other)! It provides an overview of the key concepts of cosmology in non-technical language while preserving room for deeper thought and exploration for those who are not satisfied with an introduction.
In my opinion, Chapter 2 provides the best simplified exposition of Einstein's relativity and here and there the book shows very clear exposition of the Hubble's law with kept-to-minimum mathematical presentation which is comprehensible by the general reader without relevant training at all.
Although it may be my own problem, I cannot quite get hold of the key concept of the Friedmann models. The models are first presented in Chapter 3 but they are often quoted in later chapters. Reading them all together, I fail to make a coherent understanding on the models.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2011
Many of the open questions have since been answered or redefined with the MAP and Planck satellite missions. Unless you plan to supplement your reading of this book, look elsewhere first.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2009
This is a fairly thin pocket-book which is easy to take on a trip. It is very informative. There are a few drawings, but illustrations are kept to a minimum. It covers the historical evolution of scientific thought on the nature of matter. It addresses the evolution of matter from the beginning of the universe to the present. It covers General Relativity and Special Relativity in a way that is easy to understand, without advanced mathmatics. It speculates on the contributions of String Theory. I enjoyed it. More people need to be informed about where we stand in scientific progress regarding the nature of the universe and the laws it follows.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2007
In an introduction to a topic, one expects lots of figures to explain just about every topic. This book, and indeed the entire series, generally has rather few figures. The series also, generally, focuses on the historical development of the topic and not necessarily on the current understanding of the topic. Therefore, the series sacrifices a better explanation of our current understanding to explain who thought what and when. However, that is a matter of personal taste as to whether this is a digression or not. Nonetheless, this book serves adequately in the capacity of a "very short introduction."
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Rumination on the vastness and complexity of the universe may numb and overload 1k human brains. The thing is just so dang big. And here we are on our little molten dot gazing into the seemingly impenetrable void. From the perspective of pure unaided observation nothing seems to make sense. Where are we, what are we, what the [explicative deleted] is the Universe anyway? And just where can tiny minds go to comprehend this behemoth?

"Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction" would be a good starting place. Though it doesn't clear up the mystery of existence (what could?), it does provide a great overview of where humans stand in understanding the "great beyond." We still have a ways to go.

The questions underlying cosmology have followed humanity for millenia. Though cosmology only became a pure empirical science within the last century. A brief overview of this developmental history opens the book. Starting from creation myths, described as anthropomorphic, this section follows the cosmological story from the Greeks to the modern era. Many big names appear: Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Olbers (of "Olber's Paradox"), Hubble, and Einstein, whose theories laid the foundation for the Big Bang.

The majority of the book revolves around the successes and challenges of Big Bang cosmology. Einstein's Relativity theories broke the classic Newtonian mold by ousting the notion of absolute space and time. Relative simultaneity, time dilation, and the equivalence principle led to ideas of curved space-time (the book emphasizes how difficult these concepts are to visualize and understand; General Relativity's Rube Goldberg-esque equations don't make it easier). For better or worse, Einstein then "simplified" the Universe by introducing the Cosmological Principle (homogeneity and isotropy). This led him to posit a static, non-expanding Universe in 1917. By 1929 Hubble had presented data for an expanding Universe. Einstein's Relativity and Hubble's expansion provide the foundations for modern cosmology. But problems remain: singularities exist at the initial conditions and at black holes. Essentially, the mathematics break down into infinities at these points. Regardless, the Big Bang has seen great successes with the 1965 discovery of the cosmic microwave background (remnants of "the fireball") and the general distribution of Hydrogen, Helium-4, Deuterium, and Lithium-7 (the observations and calculations coincide). For the author, the successes apparently outweigh the difficulties, for he considers the Big Bang model "proven beyond all reasonable doubt."

Other parts of the book delve into complex territory, but the discussions remain accessible throughout. Particle Physics (Leptons, Quarks, etc.) and the problem concerning Baryogenesis cover the micro scale of the cosmos. Then the problem of the value of Omega appears. This number will help determine whether the Universe will expand forever or eventually collapse in "the Big Crunch." The final section discusses "Theories of Everything" via Quantum Mechanics, "Schrödinger's Cat," Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and the need for a quantum theory of gravity. Two attitudes towards such theories exist: Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) as explicating "the Mind of God" (Hawking) or, less dramatically, as descriptions or maps of reality. But the author mentions problems with such theories in general, especially Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. A final subsection discusses the Anthropic principle (along with its "strong" and "weak" variants; some consider forms of the "strong" version a suspicious derivation of Intelligent Design).

This short book provides a great introduction to the basic principles of Cosmology. It remains readable, comprehensible, and accessible even when tackling very heady material. Some passages will confound newcomers, but that's expected given the subject matter. Vigilance will pay off. And though the book won't make anyone into a working cosmologist, it will allow the curious a glance at what scientists think our seemingly ineffable Universe comprises.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2008
This is a good general overview book. It's well written and covers the major topics of cosmology with good descriptions and easy language. If you are more scientifically inclined, than this book is probably too light to be of interest. However, if you an amature or just interested in the topic, this is a great overview. Easy read and very short.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It is very hard to write about such a complex subject in a few pages. This book manages to do it. Peter Coles gives a very brief, but thorough, introduction to this topic. I have read books that were over 500 pages long on the subject that did not cover as much. An amazing introduction to an amazing subject. If this does not stimulate you to explore further about the Cosmos, nothing else will.
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on May 2, 2015
This is not the best of the very short introduction book on scientific subjects. It tries too hard to get around some points that require math and does not always end up with a clear explanation. If you have any technical background, look elsewhere including Sean Carrol CERN lectures.
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