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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2002
This book should be in print. This is an excellent primer for understanding cosmology-the birth of the universe. Although pre-string, little quantum theory is left out. But what I liked most was the last twenty pages of his reflections. There he says that scientific truth must be third person, the sharing of collective truth and not a first person ego trip. He quotes Einstein that personal truth is a kind of optical delusion-"a kind of prison for us." Like many others Pagels found some tranquility in the noosphere of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who asserted the big bang will eventually culminate in the Omega point, an ocean of consciousness where every drop of water remains conscious of itself. His message is purely scientific- liberate yourself "from the obsession with certainty and hope" since these close you "to new experiences about reality."
Pagels realized that most theoretical physics has become a belief factory and that nothing we hold as truth today will suffice for tomorow's world. He urges his reader to develop tolerance for complexity and to welcome contradiction in order to escape the fallacies inherent in simplicity and certainty. He urges his reader to live as he died-an explorer of the unknown.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2007
I've reread this book several times over the years, and I find it a pleasure each time.

I decided to write a review today after starting yet another rereading. An observation that made me want to write a little bit of a review was some of the historical tidbits in the book. He mentions Alvin Clarke discovering a white dwarf star around the star system Serius(sorry if I got the spelling a bit off on the star system serius). Alvin Clark as noted by Heinz Pagels made the optics for the last refracting telescopes before the giant reflectors pretty much put the refractors in their places historically. Because I had read 'The Glass Giant of Palomar' I almost knew the name intimatelly. This is why books like the Perfect Symmetry' and 'the Glass Giant' have their place in the intellectual life. It's like hearing the words of Thales himself or whoever made the number patterns on the those bones tens of thousands of years ago. I then started rereading it and found even more appreciation for our time and place.

I of course have read this book before, but after writing about alot of the intellectual historic highpoints of humanity on my blog, I saw the historical viewpoint that Heinz Pagels presents of William Hershel. The fact that Hershel thought of galaxies and lookback time due to the finite speed of light . . . way back in the 1700's as oppossed to the 1900s makes all of Hershel's astronomy remarkable indeed. People have to realize that mathematical science at the time needed a certain amount of development before it could go much further than what Newton had done in the 1600's - the work of Leonard Euler and his associates. There was literally a hundred years of mathematical development before electromagnetism, chemistry, geology, biology, archaeology, and paleontology became intensive areas of study in the 1800s. But, William Herhsel's astronomy stands out before the 1800s.

The book primarilly covers the understanding of astrophysics today; it assumes a knowledge of Galileo, Kepler, and Newtonian physics. and even to a good extent Maxwell's electromagnetism. This book is a good example of how much knowledge and how many books a given person has to go through to see the extent of human knowledge.I don't mean to say that this book has a major flaw; i'm just showing that even it isn't the whole story.

The book was a great introductino to the then new inflationary cosmology at the time, and so it makes for a great reference book for 20th century thought.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is an interesting book, but having been written thirty years ago it is somewhat out of date. One easily could overlook the fact that the book was written thirty years ago had this been a history book, but the fields of cosmology and particle physics have advanced so rapidly in 30 years as to make some of the material in this book out of date. For instance, there is no mention of the unexpected acceleration in the rate of expansion of the universe that has been observed in the last thirty years or the concept of dark energy, which has been used to explain it. Also, the pictures in this paperback edition are printed on the same coarse paper as the text and are therefore murky at best. I therefore find it difficult to recommend this book without the caveat that it represents the thinking as of 1985. For those who have not already done so, I would recommend Greene’s ‘The Fabric of the Cosmos” for a more up to date view of cosmology and Oerter’s ‘The Theory of Almost Everything” for a more up to date (and I think more readable) view of the Standard Model of particle physics.

I also found that it was more complex than a book like Hawking’s “Brief History of Time”, with a lot more physics. I would only recommend this book for someone with some familiarity with particle physics, the standard model and cosmology. However, I did find a lot to interest me, so I could give the book four-stars, as I have done a lot of reading concerning the standard model and cosmology.

What is in the book –
The book is divided into three sections as follows:
1. Herschel’s Garden, which describes the universe and classical cosmology.
2. The Early Universe, which describes fields, quanta, symmetry and the standard model of particle physics and how this related to cosmology.
3. While ideas, which describes ideas such as Unified field theories (as of 1985), magnetic monopoles, the idea of the inflationary universe and the ideas concerning the origin of the universe.
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on May 17, 2015
Even though it is a bit old, this is a great book. Pagels writes popular science better than anyone I know.
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0 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2010
Mr Lovelock presents a theory that must be seriously considered by anyone who has an interest in keeping our planet alive. I would recommend this book highly, and I intend to find the author's previous books and read them, as well.
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