From Publishers Weekly
The cosmos depicted in this fascinating exploration of astrophysics, now in paperback, is mind-boggling-vast and old and full of supernovae, black holes and mysterious dark matter. But its greatest conundrum is how delicately attuned and "biophilic" a habitat it is. If the laws of nature had been configured just a bit differently-if gravity were slightly stronger, the electron a smidgen heavier, the texture of ripples in the universe a bit rougher or smoother, or the infinitesimal imbalance between matter and anti-matter off by one part in a billion-then galaxies, planets, atoms and life as we know it would have been impossible. Rees, Great Britain's Astronomer Royal and the author of Just Six Numbers: The Forces That Shape the Universe, is a sure guide to the science that illuminates these mysteries, from quantum mechanics to cosmology. He takes us from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe, exploring along the way how the galaxies gelled, how elements were forged in the furnace of the stars and how planet Earth, ensconced in a warm orbit, stabilized by the Moon and shielded from asteroids by Jupiter's gravitational field, provided a sheltered breeding ground for intelligent life. He also ponders the philosophical significance of a cosmos so finely engineered to support life, asking whether our universe is a big fluke, a miracle of providential design, or just one particularly favored example of an infinite "multiverse." Rees's engaging style, lucid exposition and grand conception make this a wonderful introduction to the biggest of scientific questions.
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Is it possible that the ancient, indifferent universe surrounding us is instead a "biophilic" cosmos, to use Rees' coinage? Certainly the cosmologists' calculations indicate that startlingly fine balances were imprinted on the universe in the first infinitesimal moments following the big bang. It is a wonder that any matter exists at all: there was, Rees relates, a one-part-per-billion preponderance of matter over antimatter, and without that equation in place, no vista of stars and galaxies could have formed. Alter other cosmic parameters, like the expansion rate, and the likelihood of life disappears altogether. In the crowded field of popular writing about the universe, Rees is genuinely in the forefront--an accomplished scientist with the superior writing skills that enable him to connect with nonspecialists and are also evident in his previous book, Before the Beginning
(1997). He exudes the instinctual curiosity we all possess when looking upward, and he focuses that wonderment on the narrow range of cosmological numbers that allow us to ruminate about it all. A wonderfully appealing presentation. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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