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Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution Reprint Edition

135 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393327588
ISBN-10: 0393327582
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Editorial Reviews Review

In this companion volume to the two-part NOVA television special by the same title, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronomy writer Donald Goldsmith attempt to cram 14 billion years of history into 300 pages. The result of this audacious exercise is a surprising and engrossing book, one that far surpasses the droning tone of so many astronomy texts. Starting (of course) with the Big Bang and ending with the search for extraterrestrial life, the authors synthesize the results of several scientific fields to present a sort of cosmological consilience. They also emphasize the scientific method and its inherent skepticism as the only way to understand such mysteries as dark matter, stellar formation, and the origin of life on Earth. Although several books are published each year that provide overviews of various branches of science, what's different about this one is the accessible tone of the writing. The authors use mild humor throughout to keep readers going in difficult sections; for instance, when assessing the question of why we live during the rare time when the amounts of dark and not-dark energy are roughly equal in the universe, they relate that cosmologist Michael Turner calls the situation the "'Nancy Kerrigan problem,' in honor of the Olympic figure skater, who asked... 'Why me? Why now?'" Combining 21st-century astronomy, astrobiology, astrochemistry, and other disciplines, Origins is a fine guidebook with which to journey "back to the beginning of everything." --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This is the most informative, congenial and accessible general look at cosmology to come along since Carl Sagan's Cosmos 27 years ago—and, like Cosmos, it's a companion to a PBS series, in this case a Nova special (to air on September 28 and 29). But Tyson (The Sky Is Not the Limit, etc.), who's director of Manhattan's Hayden Planetarium, and Goldsmith (Connecting with the Cosmos, etc.) are no Sagan clones; they bring a distinct point of view and tone to this title. The point of view surfaces right away, both with their concerted effort to draw in numerous branches of science to explain the story of cosmic evolution, and with the statement that "science depends on organized skepticism." The authors continually refer to the reach and limits of science, explaining, as they offer a chronological tour of cosmic history, just what they think science can tell us and what it can't (as they end the journey, focusing on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, they deliver several sharp blows to true believers of UFOs). The tone is informational, aimed at high clarity, and laced with giddy humor: "A hundred billion years from now... all but the closest galaxies will have vanished over our horizon of visibility. Enjoy the view while you can." Beginning at the beginning, Tyson and Goldsmith tackle the origin of the universe and its nature—from antimatter to dark matter and dark energy to the possibility of multiverses; how the universe became organized; the origin of stars; a fascinating look at the periodic table; the origin of planets, including a vivid discuss of planets outside our solar system; and the origin of life. Much of this material will necessarily be familiar to regular readers of popular science, but even they will benefit from Tyson and Goldsmith's incorporation of the latest cosmological developments, from string theory to recent thinking on dark energy; and if this book breaks out, as it has real potential to do, general readers of every stripe will benefit from the authors' sophisticated, deeply knowledgeable presentation. If the casual book buyer purchases one science book this year, this should be the one.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; Reprint edition (October 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327588
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #422,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, a monthly columnist for Natural History, and an award-winning author. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Ron Atkins on November 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Tyson and Goldsmith distill a complex subject of both immense philosophical and physical implications into 300 pages of readable text. The format is interesting, although it poses some material early on that is fairly daunting. The introduction to this subject I received by watching the 4-hour PBS production motivated me, however, to push through the tough stuff. As it turned out, the authors used the first chapter as an overview of everything, then used subsequent chapters to expand on individual concepts presented in the first chapter. I would have preferred the first chapter at the end, allowing the Preface to suffice as an introduction to the material. You may want to try reading the preface, then skipping ahead to the second chapter, saving the first chapter for last. This may keep you from tossing the book aside before giving it a fair chance. Just a thought. The title "Origins" threw me because I assumed it focused on Darwin's theory; however, this book is more than that, and combines elements of astrophysics, biology, and geology to describe how the universe was created, and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. As Sagan would say, there appears to be billions and billions of opportunities for life in the universe.

For the serious scientist, I would further recommend: Steven Weinberg, author of several books on the subject, including: the "Quantam Theory of Fields" Volumes I and II, and "The First Three Minutes." Also, B. Reed's book "Quantam Mechanics: A 1st Course," and Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe," seem to be popular. These books give a more detailed, math-heavy version of Origins.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you saw the PBS special on "Origins," you know that Neil DeGrasse Tyson does a great job of translating astrophysics into normal human language. This book goes into much greater detail and merits a gradual reading by non-scientists like myself. The Preface is a clear introduction to the issues. The next section, Overture, is intentionally overwhelming with its "Greatest Story Ever Told." If you are not frustrated by this chapter, you know a lot more about physics than I do! Ah, but that is the point. Hang in there, because the rest of the book explains the Overture, one topic at a time. I am reading part of a chapter each day at lunch and find something amazing each day. This is a good book for people who want to challenge their assumptions about reality.
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99 of 113 people found the following review helpful By J. Dretler on September 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Origins", Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith's new book, subtitled -the search for ourselves in the universe, has attempted much in tackling the real `biggest story ever told'. It is largely successful. It presents a general survey of cosmologic history from the `big bang' through the formation of galaxies, planets, and life with most of the emphasis on the earliest period. All of this is accomplished almost entirely without math, with some humor, and is a good starting point for the high school or college undergraduate student without a scientific background. It presents a more detailed scientific picture with less `wonder' than the late Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" but some readers may want more depth. For those I would recommend Steven Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes", or from the biologist's viewpoint, Morowitz's "The Emergence of Everything" which starts with the `big bang' and continues the story step-wise to explain complexity and emergence. For the general reader "Origins" presents an introduction to much mind-opening material including the mysterious `dark matter', isotropism, discussions about the curvature of space-time and the inflationary model of the universe that has the potential to stimulate further study or simply be enjoyed for itself.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on September 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There is no way we can think of for the elements that make up most of the world we know such as oxygen and carbon to exist except for them to have been 'cooked' in the center of stars. This is not exactly a simple concept, and the story of how we have learned this is remarkable in its own right.

In this companion to the PBS 'Nova' four hour special, the story of the origin of everything is explained by two excellent writers. Some years Carl Sagan did a similar book/show called 'Cosmos.' This new story is Cosmos brought up to date with the latest discoveries and theories, and done without so much of the 'Wow, how marvelous' that Sagan used.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion on the likelyhood of extra-terrestrial life in the Universe. Obviously no conclusion can be reached because we have not made contact with any other civilization, but on the other hand, it is impossible to prove a negative. The approach in this book is strictly scientific. Here is the Drake equasion, here is what the terms mean, we really have no idea of the answer.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. B. Siders on November 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was fantastic in terms of it's scope and presentation of astrophysics. It's easy to follow style and plain language make it a good read for even the most amateur science lover. Mr. Tyson does a great job of showing us how insignificant we really are in this galaxy (let alone the universe as a whole).
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