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Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe Paperback – November 2, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Unexpected discoveries, seething rivalries and inspired guesswork are all in a day's work for modern cosmologists, several of whom are profiled here. "Overbye's personal narrative makes complex realms of conflicting theory and observation accessible to the layperson," said PW. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Modern cosmology--the science of superstrings, wormholes, and Grand Unifications Theories--has been popularized in such recent books as Stephen Hawking's semitechnical A Brief History of Time ( LJ 4/15/88) and David Darling's fanciful Deep Time ( LJ 5/15/89). Overbye, the editor of Discover magazine, focuses on the people who contributed to contemporary theories of the universe. Through interviews and personal anecdotes, Overbye presents an insider's view of the lives, works, and personalities of such legendary figures as Hawking; John Wheeler, the "father of the black hole"; and Alan Guth, architect of the "inflationary universe" concept. This approach depicts science as a human process and, in a sense, brings cosmology with all of its rarefied concepts "down to earth." For more formal biographical and technical information on the work of a greater number of leading cosmologists, see Alan Lightman and Roberta Brawer's Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists ( LJ 6/1/90).
- Gregg Sapp, Mon tana State Univ. Lib., Bozeman
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay pbk. ed edition (November 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316648965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316648967
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #871,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By John Rummel on July 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
A history of cosmology, somewhat dated now, that is structured around biographies of some of the major players. Allan Sandage, Stephen Hawking, Alan Guth, Beatrice Tinsley, James Peebles, Marc Aaronson, etc. I have to tip my hand and say that this is one of my favorite books about astronomy and cosmology. Maybe I like the biographical aspect, or the fact that Overbye is just a great storyteller, and this is one great story. You gain an inside track into the transition of power between Hubble and Sandage. I don't think I really understood the inflation theory until I read Overbye's presentation (better even than Guth's book "The Inflationary Universe). If you like to read biographies of astronomers, this book will be right up your alley. If you like to read about cosmology and astrophysics, you may be distracted by Overbye's approach, but you'll still find the book worthwhile.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John Bernhardt on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is the only book I have read where, halfway through, I said, "God, don't let me die suddenly before I finish this book!" The book is so beautifully written, especially the first half. Although I think the Big Bang Theory and Guth's sealing-wax fix to that theory are sadly erroneous, this book gives a dramatic impulse to the story of the develpment of Big Bang cosmology, from Hubble to Sandage. The story as the author presents it is exciting, like a race, and you will not want to put it down. I was concerned by another review, however, that there were inaccuracies in the book. As a layman, I could not detect these, if present. All I know is, whew! What a book! Hats off to Dennis Overbye.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Chad Davies on May 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
In Overbye's "Lonely Hearts" the reader will find a contemporary history of one of the most exciting fields of science in the 20th century. Told with a personal style that helps the reader understand that the both the scientists and the science exist in a very real sociological frame work, the narrative focuses on the developments in answering, "What is the Earth's place in the cosmos?" and "What is the fate of the universe?"

Overbye centers his story around the life of Allan Sandage, the sometimes hesitant successor to Hubble. In examining his life as well as the lives of numerous other astronomers and physicists he helps the reader see both the high and the lows of a life of pursuing knowledge in a scientific context. He also helps us understand the sometimes rough and tumble world of publication, scientific ego and underlying uncertainty found in such pursuits.

The only drawback is that the book's original edition was written so long ago. While the newer edition seeks to add more information about recent progress in the field, there is a lack of the exploration of the personalities that are doing the science. Additionally, even with the update, the book is once again somewhat behind the latest work in the field.

That having been said, I still strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in astronomy or physics as well as for anyone who is a student in the history of science. I would also recommend this book for students seeking to pursue a career in the sciences. The book does a wonderful job of showing what a person must do to be successful and what obstacles a person faces when following that path.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on September 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Author Dennis Overbye studied physics at MIT and for years has been Deputy Science Editor of the New York Times. He has been associated with science his entire career and his journalistic style stands apart from the usual writings of scientists. I have yet to find a scientist write something like, "photographic plates whose grains were hysterical for the light that had left some star or galaxy before the human race was born."

Overbye spent some five years attending PhD cosmology seminars and conducting recurrent weeks-long working interviews with world-class scientists. What results is a series of mini-biographical sketches of the important players while new technologies blew this exciting field wide open - and the never-ending fight for who would get credit.

For those interested only in the history, technical and scientific paragraphs are easy enough to skip, but the interspersed science is manageable under Overbye's direction. I learned the easy way - about ages of stars, anthropic principle, antimatter, background radiation, black holes, big bang theory, bottom-up theory of galaxy formation - just a few items selected from the "a's" and "b's" in the index.

Although the book was published in 1991, the science is still almost current. Recent publications suggest there have been no new significant findings in physics in the immediate past decade (although astronomy has been booming). This is a great read, and a valuable kick-start in my on-going efforts to understand particle physics and cosmology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Foster VINE VOICE on October 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By page 114, I could already comfortably explain Hawking radiation: the seeming paradox that absolutely nothing can get out of a black hole, yet it radiates vast amounts of energy. (Hint: think of particle/antiparticle quantum foam popping into normally-temporary existence right ON the event horizon.) Where does that energy come from? Literally nowhere.

Still here? Good: now I know who I'm talking to. This is a brilliantly clear history of 20th Century physics, astronomy, and cosmology. The characters come to life: before his killjoy editors got to him, one of Stephen Hawking's papers included "Suppose you have a little race of gnomes..." At one point, astronomers could rank themselves depending on whether Allan Sandage had at some point stopped talking to them. Described at length are several cases of mentors guiding students in the best Platonic fashion. Also, interestingly described at length is the fall and rise of the mighty Allan Sandage, who was thought of as being out of date until more modern yardsticks stunningly verified his thirty years of meticulous, lonely work.

I only have a good brain, a year of college math (which I'm dreadful at) and physics, and a lifelong fascination with astronomy/cosmology going for me, but I submit that any intelligent, interested person would like this book and may be inspired by it. It is an adult dose, and I'm savouring it. By page 300, I already understood symmetry, broken symmetry, the whole enormous fuss about the Higgs boson (yes, it IS that big a deal: until we created one in the CERN accelerator, they had been entirely missing from the universe since the first trillionth of a second), the concept of a supercooled Higgs field, and finally what inflation is and why it had to happen.
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