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Our Cosmic Habitat

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ISBN-13: 978-0691114774
ISBN-10: 0691114773
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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 23, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691114773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691114774
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,296,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Martin Rees, who is the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, returns here to the speculative cosmological mode that he so successfully employed in Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others (1997) and brings us up to date on his latest thinking. He sets the tone by featuring a quotation from acclaimed science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon's novel Star Maker (1937) to the effect that all that we are and have been is "but a flicker in one day of the lives of the stars." The title Our Cosmic Habitat reinforces the long and distant view that Rees wants to assume, seeing the universe as enormously large and long-lived. The book was composed from the Scribner Lectures that Rees gave at Princeton University.

The ground covered reflects a growing trend in cosmology, that of thinking aloud and in public about matters that have little or no chance of being scientifically tested now or perhaps ever. In particular Rees speculates on the possibility and nature of other universes beyond our own. Indeed, he refers to a "multiverse" with the implication that the universe we experience is just one of a possibly infinite number of other universes, distant from us spatially, temporally and even dimensionally. In other words he seems to be talking about things we can never have any information about!

To the old physicists this must seem a sacrilege, but then Rees himself is no spring chicken! I find it refreshing that a man of his stature and reputation can so freely speculate on matters that are of such complexity and distance, as he notes on page 156, that they "may never be explained or understood.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Regnal on February 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the first book by Martin Rees I have read, and I like it.
He created very brief (about 200 pages only) but surprisingly complete picture of modern cosmology and scientific fields related to it.
After reading Alan Guth, Donald Goldsmith, Stephen Hawking and Igor Novikov, this book greatly summarizes and helps to put everything together: properties of our Universe, current conclusions from observations, microphysics dilemmas, speculations about time and multiverses and possible barriers further research may encounter.
Introducing Q number, Martin Rees explains cosmic texture.
Presenting simple equation for gravitational attraction he makes easy to understand negative energy of vacuum (this unfortunately in Notes, at the end of the book; should be introduced within the main text in my opinion).
I was shocked learning that our empty space could be vulnerable to a catastrophic transfiguration induced artificially by high- energy particle collisions in accelerator experiments (more about it on page 120).
Content of this book is for educated and oriented readers; author does not waste time to explain basic terms of physics. One should know for example what is "bar code" in the spectra from the galaxies.
Small correction: figure 4.1 (page 52) describes numbers:0.1 , 0.2 and 0.3 as a redshift. This is not exactly.
These numbers are related to the redshift but they represent fraction of a time since a big bang.
Concluding: if you like to read about cosmology, it is not the only subject of your interest and you want fast update - get "Our Cosmic Habitat". It will save you lots of time.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Khemprof TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Our Cosmic Habitat written by Martin J. Rees is a book that looks at the fundamentals and conjectures of our galaxy and for that matter, of what we know, the universe.
To link the cosmos and the microworld requires a breakthrough. Twentieth-century physics rests on two great foundations: the quantum principle(that which governs the "inner space" of atoms) and Einstein's relativity theory, which describes time, outer space, and gravity but doesn't incorporate quantum effects.
Yet looking at the two great foundations you'd think that physics could link the two, well, surprise... they haven't. The structures erected on the foundations are still as far apart as the day they were proposed. Until there is a unified theory of the forces governing both cosmos and microworld, we won't be able to understand the fundamental features of our universe... the superstring theory shows the most promiss.
Superstring or M-theory in which each point in our ordinary space is actually a tightly folded in six dimensions, wrapped up on scales perhaps a billion billion times smaller than an atomic nucleus, and particles are represented as vibrating loops of "string."
As you can see this can get pretty deep, but the author has written this book so it can be easily understood and comprehended by the layreader. The author has a very effective prose and the narrative moves quickly and the reader gets a tour-de-force in the study of cosmology.
The book has three parts and each part has chapters. The chapters break the information down into easily understood groupings. A view of a multiverse or may universesis not just found in science-fiction anymore. It seems that the multiverse is getting play from those who are willing to venture out.
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