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Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 9, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0307272850 ISBN-10: 0307272850 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (November 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272850
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If it's possible to write a literary treatment of cutting-edge cosmology, groundbreaking physicist Bojowald has done it, complete with illustrations of abstract sculpture and quotes from thinkers as diverse as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Charles Dickens, and Joseph Heller. Bojowald, a professor of physics at Penn State, explores loop quantum theory, an idea he developed as a postdoctoral student in 2000, to fill in the gaps left by 20th-century physics. Despite advances like relativity theory, curved space, and quantum theory, physics falters when it comes to explaining what happened before the Big Bang, when time, space, matter, and energy were all shrunk into a bizarre entity called a singularity, where math and logic as we know them failed. Later, string theory, with its extra dimensions and elegant equations, offered promise, but only with loop quantum cosmology were physicists able to see the universe be born, expand, shrink, and be reborn, over and over again. Bojowald largely avoids mathematics for accessibility, but that can leave his writing dense with rigor as he strives to cover "the Whole Story." Readers willing to meet his challenge will find a fascinating new universe revealed by his enthusiastic firsthand approach. 37 illus. (Nov.) (c)
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From Booklist

In theoretical physics, gravity can be an intractable problem. At extreme values prevalent near the big bang or black holes, general relativity can’t accommodate it. String theory purports to be a solution, but not all physicists are on the string bandwagon. One such recalcitrant, Bojowald champions a rival theory called loop quantum gravity, which he here valiantly presents to the nonmathematical. If his explanation daunts some science readers, its implications will be sufficiently clear and exciting to pull them through his text, because those involve the start of the big bang and the interior of a black hole. Notionally, each one is a singularity as Bojowald describes the failure of mathematics when energy density goes to infinity and space collapses to zero volume. Loop quantum gravity offers an escape from these terrifying places by acting like a quantum-mechanical Atlas who holds space open just enough so that physics—the universe—can continue to exist. Complex but comprehensible, Bojowald’s treatment of loop quantum gravity should compete with popular string-theory titles such as Endless Universe (2007), by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Like Hawking, Bolowold manages to describe these complicated ideas without bogging down in mathematical notation.
Fred Bortz "Dr. Fred"
His "preamble" covering Newton's gravity, Einstein's general relativity and quantum mechanics is especially well done.
That is to say, you do not lose touch with where the author is going--at least during the first half of the book.
Keith H. Bray

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Crowell on November 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was a big disappointment. The style is really hard to plod through; every sentence reminds you that English isn't Bojowald's native language. The book starts by covering a lot of preliminaries about quantum mechanics and general relativity, and it doesn't do that very well. This first half of the book is in particularly in need of some diagrams. E.g., there is a description of the Bohr model of the atom in words, with no diagram of the circular orbits. Rather than useful scientific diagrams, most of the illustrations in the book are photos of abstract sculptures. Once he gets into the quantum gravity stuff, there are some descriptions of contact with observation, but these are already out of date. He discusses tests of dispersion of the vacuum, which the LQG community has already disowned as a prediction of the theory. He also devotes some space to Smolin's cosmological natural selection, which has recently been falsified by the observation of a high-mass neutron star. Amazingly for a book about LQG, there are absolutely no drawings of spin networks.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Keith H. Bray on December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Considering that there is scant little published material on LQC (aside from the deplorable book published by Books, LLC which is a collection of Wikipedia articles), I was highly excited by the author, quality and the size of the 'Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe.' However, you do not judge a book by its cover--a lesson that is difficult for a self-professed bibliophile--and I have to somewhat agree with the above reviewer in that I was somewhat left waiting for the punch line. That is to say, I understand that many popular level books have to start out by stating the same foundational issues many physics books seem pressured to lay out the same foundation only this book lays it out in such a way as to presume that one would have some working knowledge of classical and non-classical physics. This book accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish; namely, teaches you everything you wanted to know about LQC regardless of some outdated scientific notions (that are irrelevant anyway). Moreover, it is organized enough so that the "patient" reader can get through this book without too much pain.

You will not find any chapter containing long descriptions of Einstein's light clock or the twin paradox. And, this is actually one of the good things one can state about the writing style and approach. Many of the chapters--at least at the beginning--are not torturously long. That is why I would give this book a 3+ star rating. Contrary to the reviewer above, the book is worth more than 1-star and I would not dismiss the author too quickly as there is a measure of subjectivity when reading. Some chapters are three pages in length and very readable. That is to say, you do not lose touch with where the author is going--at least during the first half of the book.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Fred Bortz "Dr. Fred" on February 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This review was published in slightly shorter form in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and I retained rights to republish it elsewhere.

Move over, Stephen Hawking. Make way for Penn State physics professor Martin Bojowald!

Bojowald's new book, Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe, describes what may turn out to be a definitive breakthrough toward solving the greatest problem in modern physics. Though no one expects the professorial Bojowald to outsell the charismatic Stephen Hawking, Once Before Time is a more worthy successor to Hawking's 1980s mega-seller, A Brief History of Time, than is Hawking's own new book, The Grand Design.

Bojowald's story begins in 2000 when he was a 27-year-old postdoctoral researcher in cosmology at Penn State. Understanding the behavior of the universe as a whole requires a solid grasp of two remarkably successful but apparently incompatible theories: general relativity and quantum mechanics.

General relativity runs counter to our intuitive distinctions between space and time and between mass and energy. It describes gravity as the result of the warping of spacetime due to the distribution of mass-energy within it.

Quantum mechanics describes the subatomic realm, again in counter-intuitive ways. Waves and particles become two faces of the same phenomenon, described mathematically as a wave function.

The two theories, as currently constituted, are incompatible in a significant way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. A. Bull on May 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a semi-popular discussion of loop quantum gravity and its applications to black holes and cosmology. Although avoiding the formulas and equations which so discomfort some folk, it requires a reasonable familiarity with modern physics.

The book opens with introductions to gravity and quantum theory, giving a particularly interesting account of general relativity, using the GPS as an example. These themes combine in the central chapter describing loop quantum gravity, a candidate 'theory of everything'. Essentially it is a quantum version of Ashtekar's formulation of general relativity based on space alone rather than space-time. ( Its widely followed rival, string theory, is more of a fresh start, based on complicated geometries of many dimensions. ) The fundamental unit is the loop as a quantum of space, determined by its quantised area and orientation; with space being a discrete 'wave function' of a vast grid of intersecting loops. Its successive states may be numbered in order, to play the role of time, and they evolve according to difference equations rather than the familiar differential equations. However a fully covariant list of equations has yet to be found.

A big advantage of loop quantum gravity is that infinities of compression are prevented as intense energy waves, unable to be accommodated by the grid, turn into a repulsive force. This leads to very different accounts of black holes and the big bang from those of general relativity with its singularities. In cosmology, extrapolating back to to the beginning of our universe, Bojowald himself was able to formulate and solve simplified equations to show that space would pass through a single empty cell to an inside-out 'mirror' space, where each loop has a reversed orientation.
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