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How Old Is the Universe? Hardcover – December 5, 2010

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691147314 ISBN-10: 0691147310

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's all very well for astronomers to say that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, but you have to wonder just how they figured that out. Vanderbilt University astronomer Weintraub (Is Pluto a Planet?) explains it all for astronomy buffs in an enthusiastic way. He starts with how scientists first determined the age of the solar system--about 4.5 billion years --by isotope dating the oldest known rocks: lunar rocks brought back by astronauts, and meteorites that have collided with Earth. He then shows how stellar life cycles indicate an age of about 13 billion years. Astronomer Edwin Hubble's discoveries--that fuzzy spiral nebulae were really distinct and very distant galaxies, and that those galaxies are moving away from us--offered a new measure and new result: 13.5 billion years. Refining that number requires measuring things we can't even see: dark energy and dark matter, including exotics like wimps (weakly interacting massive particles) and machos (massive compact halo objects). Weintraub guides readers on a winding journey through history, explaining various dating approaches and illustrating the determination of astronomers to find the answer to one of the most basic questions about our universe. 46 b&w photos; 76 line illus. (Jan.)
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Review

Honorable Mention for the 2011 PROSE Award in Cosmology & Astronomy, Association of American Publishers

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011

"This detective story is magnificently presented. The professional astronomer-author writes in an interesting, organized, and very readable way, presenting this chronology of the quest to answer one of the most challenging questions in astronomy."--Choice

"Weintraub, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University, offers a patient tour of the new data-rich landscape."--David Kaiser, London Review of Books

"It's all very well for astronomers to say that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, but you have to wonder just how they figured that out. Vanderbilt University astronomer Weintraub (Is Pluto a Planet?) explains it all for astronomy buffs in an enthusiastic way. . . . Weintraub guides readers on a winding journey through history, explaining various dating approaches and illustrating the determination of astronomers to find the answer to one of the most basic questions about our universe."--Publishers Weekly

"Astronomer David Weintraub explains . . . how we know that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, a finding that has had an impact on science, philosophy and religion. By looking at the various ways in which the age of the cosmos has been established over the centuries--from the lifecycles and pulsations of stars to galactic structures and cosmology--he reveals the process of scientific enquiry and shows how astronomers gather evidence to grapple with deep questions."--Nature

"Weintraub has a gift for presenting complicated matters in a lucid and understandable way by employing clever analogies. . . . How Old Is the Universe? is a welcome contribution to the popular literature on astronomy. . . . It offers a scientifically competent and impressively informative account of how astronomers and physicists have unveiled the secrets of the universe."--Helge Kragh, American Scientist

"Telling the story of how one fundamental scientific question has developed over the last 2,000 years of human history is a daunting task. Yet it's one that David Weintraub has risen to admirably. . . . Weintraub's journey neatly introduces you to almost all of modern astronomical understanding. With a style that is rich with fascinating detail, but remaining perfectly accessible."--Alastair Gunn, BBC Sky at Night Magazine

"David A. Weintraub presents a bracing, detailed, and surprisingly math-free look at how astronomers have managed to figure out that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old. . . . Weintraub's stimulating mix of history and pure science will be an excellent introduction to the topic for intrepid readers from any background."--Charlene Brusso, New York Journal of Books

"Weintraub outlines the rigorous process astronomers have followed from Earth itself out to the edge of the observable universe and makes it accessible to the science-minded lay reader. Highly recommended."--Library Journal

"You probably know the answer already. But do you know how we found it? This is no-nonsense science writing that will be enjoyed for years: David Weintraub is an expert guide, laying out the evidence with just the right amount of detail."--Michael Brooks, New Scientist

"A wonderfully comprehensive survey."--Shobhit Mahajan, Times Higher Education

"If you really want to know the age of the universe, then you too have to start from scratch. How Old is the Universe? places the question in its proper historical context and explains what has gone into answering it. . . .What this book shows is how deduction, dedication, care and persistence in many fields have led to the figure we have today. It is the story of a scientific triumph."--Kulvinder Singh Chadha, Physics World

"This is a very engaging and readable book that will help you wrap your mind around an agreed to astronomical actuality: The universe is 13.7 billion years old. . . . [The author] offers the reader a fact-filled roadmap that needed to unfold in order to answer a core question about our surrounding universe."--Leonard David, Coalition for Space Exploration

"By focusing on one of the most crucial questions about the universe and challenging readers to understand the answer, Weintraub familiarizes readers with the ideas and phenomena at the heart of modem astronomy. Offering a unique historical approach to astronomy, this book sheds light on the inner workings of scientific inquiry and reveals how astronomers grapple with deep questions about the physical nature of our universe."--Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin

"[T]his is a lovely book devoted to one of the most important questions in physical science. The presentation is lively and readable. General readers will enjoy it, and it could also be a text or supplementary text for general education astronomy courses."--Robert D. Joseph, Contemporary Physics

"Recommended, if you are game for a simulated journey through the enigma that is our Universe, while picking strange berries along the way."--Subhra Priyadarshini, Businessworld

"The story of this discovery is exciting, ending with the Nobel Prize, told in detail by Professor Weintraub in the book. Every question the reader may have is answered in this book. The book is written at a level understandable by people who are curious about our world but don't have a scientific background. It should serve as a source of information for people with a background in astronomy."--Milton Friedman, Montgomery News

"How Old is the Universe? walks general readers gently through each step of discovery, with Professor Weintraub--whose previous, equally inquisitive book was Is Pluto a Planet?--proving an able guide. . . . With simple, straightforward descriptions, Weintraub gives readers the equivalent of an enjoyable college astronomy course, as well as teaching the half-dozen or so ways by which we know, with great precision if not the exact time of day, the moment of the big bang."--Michael Ray Taylor, Chapter 16
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691147310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147314
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,067,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jerry P. on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When we look at something, it is only natural for us to wonder how old it is and where did it come from. This book answers those questions about the universe. Professor Weintraub does a fantastic job of showing the scientific evidence that has been accumulated over man's history that leads to a very accurate answer to this question today. Since something has to be at least as old as the things within it, he starts by discussing how we have determined the age of our Earth and Solar System, then the stars and our galaxy and finally other galaxies and the entire universe. Along the way there is a lot of interesting science covered and stories of many of the pioneers in science and how they made their contributions. Many interesting personal stories about these people are uncovered in this journey. One I found particularly interesting was the story of Henrietta Leavitt, who was one of a group of human computers hired to do mathematical calculations by hand for astronomers in the early 1900's. She was paid 30 cents per hour (5 cent more than most because her boss new she did exceptional work). They were all women since they could be paid much less. In 1908 she made one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century in her analysis of Cepheid variable stars even though she was not an astronomer nor expected to do any analysis, just arithmetic.
This book covers a lot of science to come to the answer of the age of the universe and is a beautiful coverage of the scientific method. It is a true masterpiece!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rich Challen on February 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is a fascinating guide to modern astrophysics with a compelling theme - what is the age of the universe. I especially liked the discussion on dark matter and dark energy. The use of real data from modern astronomical satellites in graphical form was particularly interesting. Weintraub neatly builds upon discovery after discovery until we get to the (caution, spoiler) magic number: 13.7 +/- billion years old. If you wonder how we can know so much about the entire universe - past and present - sitting on our small planet in the suburbs of the Milky Way, read "How Old Is the Universe?".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By NJ on March 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
One of the best books on cosmology because of the lucidity with which the author explains extremely complicated subjects.

This relatively short book covers a lot of ground fluidly while retaining the fine balance between making things understandable but without making them boring or needlessly repetitive. The book contains some of the best explanations I have read on the Hubble's constant, dark matter (including Machos and Wimps) or even classical topics like relativity, quantum mechanics or religion (!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SP on May 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very well written and fascinating. Lays out the logic of how astronomers have deduced the 13.7 billion years since the big bang in a clear and easy to understand manner. Allows you to follow the history of thought and solid evidence of this topic without dumbing it down. I hope there will be additional books from David Weintraub in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hepner on November 3, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excelent book that shows how the age of the universe is determined. There are portions of this book that gets down into the weeds, but on the whole it is excellent. If one is interested in the cosmos, I recommend this book.
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