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Measuring Eternity: The Search for the Beginning of Time Paperback – November 12, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Is it possible to discern the instant of the universe's birth? Aristotle believed the universe to be eternal, while a 17th-century Irish bishop insisted its creation occurred at the shockingly specific moment of 6 p.m., October 23, 4004 BC. Few questions have baffled and excited mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, geologists, theologians and average Joes as much as those that seek to explore the mysteries of time. Gorst, a writer and director of science documentaries, discusses how human understanding of time shifted throughout the centuries, as models of the universe became more accurate and instruments for gathering data grew more sophisticated. He spends the majority of the book on the time follies of scientific figures from the last three centuries, from Bishop Ussher (whose inaccurate October theory wasn't entirely debunked until the 20th century) to Newton, Buffon, Darwin and Lyell all of whom failed the time test. There's enough background in each of these profiles to keep readers engaged, and when Gorst reaches present-day science, there's a good payoff. The last three years have been particularly productive ones for astrophysicists, and it's now possible to offer an age for the universe based on real observational data (especially the Hubble constant in other words, the rate at which the universe is expanding). This brief and lively volume is a great middle-of-the-pool place to dive into the nature of time; its accessibility ensures that most readers will want to keep swimming.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

More than 350 years ago, Bishop James Ussher used impeccable scholarship to present a staggering claim: he placed the creation of the Earth at 4004 B.C.E. Though wildly inaccurate, this date was still being published in Bibles into the 20th century. A writer and director of science programs for the Discovery Channel and Channel 4 in London, Gorst documents the turbulent times of Ussher and his predecessors, as natural philosophy began its quiet separation from Church doctrine. Gorst proceeds through the centuries, describing the drama behind many of the most famous names in science Newton, Darwin, Kelvin, Einstein, Hubble as they strive to contribute their discoveries to the most fundamental questions of their times. Gorst himself adds to the "historical science with a plot" genre with solid research and a thoroughly enjoyable story. Enthusiasts of Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World, LJ 6/15/01) will particularly enjoy Gorst's excellent first book. Recommended for public libraries. Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA
Copyright 2001 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: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767908449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767908443
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,176,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
If you have an old family Bible published as recently as the early 20Th Century, or about 1910, you will find a notation that is remarkable. This was the last year that Bibles gave not only the year that the world began, but also the date, the day, and the time down to the minute. Specifically, the world was to have been created on Saturday October 22 at 6:30 in the year 4,004b.c. An Irish Bishop, James Usher had calculated the date in the early 17th century, and his date prevailed despite challenges for almost 300 years. His methodology was superficially simple, however his source material contained a variety of time spans that were in conflict. Various ancient texts provided reference points when a variety of Biblical events took place, and these contradictions all had to be reconciled or eliminated to arrive at Bishop Usher's Date. Stated simply, he began with Genesis and then added together all of the lives that were listed, and the times they spanned to arrive at his date.
At first glance his thinking appears terribly flawed, however the reality of dating the creation of our universe from the, "Big Bang", was only agreed upon after the Hubble Telescope was in orbit for several years, and even the present date comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent. In practice this amounts to just under 1.4 billion years. It also took until the end of the 20th Century to prove the Universe is expanding, and to agree on the rate of expansion, sort of. For even those who adhere to the present numbers know that few theories never change, and the rate at which the Universe is expanding is still being refined.
The centuries that encompassed the search for the origin in time of the space that our planet calls home, was pursued without pause and by familiar and brilliant minds.
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Format: Hardcover
The beauty of this book is that you don't have to know anything about science to be mesmerized by it. Its reads as though a grand wizard of storytelling is telling you an especially wonderful story. Briefly, this book tells the story of how we as human beings came to question the world around us, and eventually the universe. The style of writing is plain, simple english, like a good documentary. Gorst explains the science in examples that don't interfere with the narrative. The search for the beginning of time involved countless scientists, and Gorst seamlessly blends each person's contribution, smoothly moving from one person or era to another. The book is lively and engaging and would make a great present for just about anyone; it's a nice change from the usual bestseller that leaves you with nothing when you're done.
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Format: Paperback
What a shame this little gem of a book hasn't received the large promotion it does to get it out into the mainstream! Expecting a dry little book about mans obsession with time, I was extremely surprised to find a compelling and overwhelmingly fascinating book which tells a tale of mankind's efforts to find out how old the Earth is. The story is very character driven, dipping into the fascinating (if opressed) lives of men of science and religion, driven over the last 400 years to work out exactly how old is the Earth. Of course, initially, the results are hopelessly tangled in religious boundaries but gradually, the questing minds of scientists eventually begin to push back the religious boundaries.
Gorst has written an absolutely magical book here - worth reading whether even if only looking to kill a few hours - because it is so well written, so easy to read and so interesting! Its been a long time since I read such a great work of non-fiction and would recommend this book to anyone with the slightest hint of curiosity or interest in history!
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Format: Hardcover
Martin Gorst's "Measuring Eternity" is a scientific history book describing the attempts in the last 400 years to discover the age of the Earth (and of the universe, when it becomes clear that the two are not necessarily the same). It starts slowly, with a long chapter about the life of the Irish bishop who used the Bible and non-Christian histories to build a timeline back to what he declared was the beginning of creaton, an exact time and date in 4004 B.C. However, it picks up steam as rationality and the new science of geology begin an inexorable assault on the 6000-year age of the world. There are interesting stories about the personalities involved, such as Descartes' panicked response to Galileo's arrest; he completely rewrote his groundbreaking work to make it as palatable as possible to the religious authorities. Nevertheless, from the work of Descartes, other philosophers built on the idea that rocks and fossils are more instructive guides than Scripture to the history of the world. Gorst does a good job of showing how the scientists had to battle not only their peers and the limited technology of the day, but the religious leaders who opposed every challenge to the idea that the earth was created in literally six days.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, experiments with radioactive dating estimated the earth's age at a few billion years, but at that point the astronomers began to take over and the last quarter of the book examines their exploits in determining the age of the universe. As the telescopes got bigger and more sensitive, a race developed to accurately determine how far away other galaxies are and how fast they are travelling; by extrapolating from this data back to the Big Bang, the age of the known universe could be determined (13.
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