62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Science
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...
Published on November 23, 2004 by Ron Atkins
88 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good starting point
"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...
Published on September 17, 2004 by J. Dretler
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Science,
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.
As an amateur scientist, rather weak in mathematics, I am happy with the depth of studying Origins, and enjoyed the color photos in this book. Carl Sagan's books "Cosmos" and "Billions and Billions" are good supplements to this book, written at a similar level, approachable by non-scientists.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Challenge for Non-Scientists,
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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.
88 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good starting point,
"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.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reflects Current Thinking and expresses it Clearly,
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.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional!,
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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).
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mysteries of Creation,
A non-scientist, I've read several books trying to understand current theories as to how the universe began, developed, and how it will end some day. This book comes closer to making clear to me some very complex issues than any other I have found. The authors start with the small --quantum mechanics, the Big Bang, and the time the universe was the size of a pinhead -- and proceed on to examine the big issues.
The approach of the book is chronological, from 14 billion years ago up to the present. The first chapters deal with the creation of the universe. From there attention moves to the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets and, finally, the authors take a long look at the prospects of finding life somewhere out there. Along the way, there is fascinating -- and occasionally humorous -- discussion on subjects such as whether the universe is finite or infinite, the techniques of finding unseen planets circling distant stars, and the conditions under which life might be created. Theories, speculation, and facts are introduced that date from as recently as 2002 so this book should be current and readable for a few more years.
The text is illustrated by a sizeable number of good-quality color photographs and an extensive glossary explains a lot of terms and theories mentioned in the text. All in all, a book characterized by a lucid, accurate, and comprehensible look at some awfully big subjects.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the beginning,
Writing for or from a TV science documentary is a challenge. The prose must address a wide spectrum of viewers' knowledge levels. The authors must neither insult nor overwhelm the viewer/reader. Tyson and Goldsmith have achieved that fine balance with this book. It provides a wealth of information about the origins and progress of the universe since its inception at the Big Bang. Tackling an amazingly complex subject, the authors break it down into a well-organised set of topics. Each step takes the reader into a more specific area of interest starting with what can be inferred about the earliest moments of the universe to the formation of planets.
Cosmology, even written for television, is a massive subject to impart. The range of subjects runs from immense forces to the minuscule movements of subatomic particles. The authors start at the smallest, but most powerful point - the time at which the entire universe was the size of a pinhead. From that initial condition, where all space and time were combined in a furiously energetic pellet, the authors follow the universe as it expands and cools. Black holes form and disappear, smudges of material begin to coalesce and the universe begins to display some patterns. Galaxies give birth to stars and planets appear where possible.
In depicting the events and conditions of universe building, the authors provide defining, useful explanations of many phenomena. The issue of "multiple universes" has gained many adherents in theoretical physics and cosmology. Because their very nature precludes observing them, the ranks of critics of the concept are about as equally swollen. "Dark matter", that mysterious material that would explain why things aren't moving about in the manner originally formulated, is clarified [at last!] well. Keeping math at bay in this book, the authors instead explain the concepts of how dark matter's influence was recognised and what efforts have been attempted to detect it. It's interesting at this point to note a dark matter galaxy has been recently identified.
From a topic as seemingly esoteric as dark matter, the authors turn to the more familiar. Stellar and planetary formation result from the accretion of material. Learning that this material is "dust" may give a few pause. This isn't the stuff under the divan, but much finer, assembled from but a few elements in the form of complex molecules. Clouds of this minuscule material may form a disc, leading to the heavier bits selecting locations and sweeping up nearby material. In the densest centre, enough material may initiate stellar ignition. Further out, little lumps combine, build and form planets. If you ask astronomers the details of the process, say the authors, "they can only gesticulate" - a new expression replacing "shrug their shoulders".
Shrewd expressions such as this permeate this book, making it a lively read. Quarks endure "shotgun" marriages and gravity "wriggles loose" from Planck matter. To some this "dumbs down" the findings of years of studious effort. To the reader new to these ideas, it smoothes the path to understanding. If you are new to cosmology, the origin of our universe and what conditions allowed us to inhabit a piece of it and ask all these questions, this book is a treasure to read and keep. Many of these issues will continue to be examined in the coming years. With a bit of effort, you may become one of the names in a later edition. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting science for a general audience,
This is a review of the book, not the NOVA series or the DVD of that series. I have not seen the series, so I review the book on its own merits.
This book is for a general audience with almost no math. (The only equations are Einstein's relationship between energy and mass, and a simple equation of the form A+M=1.) The book is entertaining, with a breezy conversational style. It stresses how experimental techniques, such as measurements of the cosmic background radiation and the spectroscopy of starlight, tell us about the universe and provide the underpinning for the various models for the evolution of the universe. The most complex theories are outlined in a clear manner, for instance, the need for "dark energy/dark matter" to explain why the universe exists today. There is also a refreshing lack of certitude. We need dark energy/dark matter, but we do not know what it is and perhaps this implies that our current ideas are so wrong that we are not even asking the right questions.
The book goes from the birth and evolution of the universe to the question of why complex life exists and why it might or might not be common in the universe. There is a useful glossary of terms and an index. A list of selected reading is given but no specific notes. This book is not a picture book of star images, but there are two sections of plates showing beautiful images of star systems and of features of our planet. My only reservation is a lack of diagrams, which could have clarified some of the more complex portions of the book. This lack of diagrams caused me to reduce the rating to 4 stars, otherwise it would have been 5 stars.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Series, Great Book,
With a recent viewing of Origins on Public Television, I decided to pick up the "companion volume" and see if it is as good as the Nova series. As good as the series was - and I think it was very good - the book is better. I was delighted.
Origins takes us from the beginning of space and time to the origins of life, all in a conversational manner, never glossing over the difficult bits or controversies, but explaining each in the light of science. The authors have done a wonderful job taking such a large subject - there's no escaping it, the universe, space, and time are large subjects - and condensing them without trivializing the complexity and wonder of the subject.
This book is for all lay cosmologists and I recommend it for high school general science courses too.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How it all began,
This review is from: Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (Paperback)
Imagine a time in the future when space travel is perfected: you can zip between the stars in a day, rather than the millennia it would currently take. You decide to go on a "road" trip and tour the Milky Way. Even with super fast travel, if you visited only one star per day, it would still take you millions of years to complete your tour. And that's just the Milky Way; if you wanted to see the whole universe, a trillion years wouldn't be enough. The universe is that big and has that much stuff in it; more stunning is that all the stars and planets take up only a very small fraction of the total space. The cosmos is an awesome place and Origins by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith discusses how it all began and what our place is in this vastness.
Logically enough, the book pretty much starts at the beginning, namely at the Big Bang. Actually, it starts slightly later, when the universe was 10 to the minus 43 seconds old; before that, things are shrouded in mystery. From there, we see how the universe evolved, from a haze of pure energy and subatomic particles to one where matter, well...mattered. We then read of the formation of galaxies, then of stars and planets, and finally of life itself.
Are all the answers known? No, of course not, but certain theories have been dismantled (such as the steady state theory of the origin of the universe), others are still sketchy (like how the Earth and other planets formed and a few are really speculative (like how much intelligent life there is beyond the Earth). Somehow, though, the fact that there are still mysteries out there is more pleasantly tantalizing than frustrating.
There can be alternate explanations involving supernatural entities which may provide simpler answers but are not really theories as they cannot pass scientific scrutiny. Tyson and Goldsmith touch on these alternatives, but mainly just on their inadequacy from a scientific standpoint. That is to say, if you believe in "creation science", this is probably not the book for you.
If you have read a lot about astronomy and cosmology already, such as Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, then Origins will not offer much that you don't already know. This book is designed more for the layperson whose knowledge of these fields is more limited. On the other hand, the authors write with a lot of wit and clarity, so even if you know most of the information within, it is presented in a refreshing enough manner to still make it worth your while.
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Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Paperback - October 17, 2005)