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The Age of Everything: How Science Explores the Past Hardcover – November 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0226322926 ISBN-10: 0226322920

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Ever wonder how we know with any certainty that the first humans arrived in the Americas about 11,000 years ago? Or that dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago? Or that the solar system is about 4.5 billion years old?...Hedman is worth reading because he is careful to present both the power and peril of trying to extract precise chronological data. These are all very active areas of study, and as you read Hedman you begin to see how researchers have to be both very careful and incredibly audacious, and how much of our understanding of ourselves—through history, through paleontology, through astronomy—depends on determining the age of everything."
(Anthony Doerr Boston Globe 2007-11-18)

"We are used to being told confidently of an enormous, measurable past: that some collection of dusty bones is tens of thousands of years old, or that astronomical bodies have an age of some billions. But how exactly do scientists come to know these things? That is the subject of this quite fascinating book, a collection of detective techniques that begins with the deciphering of Mayan hieroglyphs and the reconstruction of their extraordinary calendar, like a huge system of gears; and ends by tracing the universe back to its own birth. As told by Hedman, an astronomer, each story is a marvel of compressed exegesis that takes into account some of the most modern and intriguing hypotheses.... The book is dense with fact but beautifully lucid."

(Steven Poole The Gaurdian 2007-12-08)

"A concise, readable, and instructive work that succeeds in explaining a sampling of methods for measuring age and modern applications of their use."
(Choice 2007-05-01)

About the Author

Matthew Hedman is a research associate in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226322920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226322926
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,798,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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This book might also appeal to those who enjoy Jared Diamond's work.
L. Kelly
You will end up with a much better understanding of how the decay of rate of known elements such as carbon-14 is used to determine the age of things.
Book Shark
The book contains many diagrams and plots that complement the main text very well.
G. Poirier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on May 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
As indicated in the introduction, the aim of this book is to provide the public with a sampling of the methods that are used to measure the ages of various things. It is based on a series of lectures that the author has given on this subject. Using as tools the precession of the earth's axis, the decay of radioactive isotopes of certain elements, DNA, light from distant stars, cosmic background radiation, etc., the items whose ages are explored include (but are not limited to) the Classic Mayan civilization, Egyptian pyramids, various archaeological artifacts, events in human evolution, meteorites, stars and even the universe. Since the book is aimed at the general public, mathematical details have been omitted. However, the author pulls very few punches regarding the level at which each case is presented. As a result, readers may find some chapters challenging if they have little or no prior familiarity with the basics of the topics presented. The book contains many diagrams and plots that complement the main text very well. The writing style is clear, authoritative, generally friendly but occasionally dry. This book can be enjoyed by the more serious general reader but it will likely be appreciated the most by science buffs. There is much too learn from this book. As a result, it would likely make a useful reference in university courses on this subject.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Age of Everything by Matthew Hedman

The Age of Everything by Matthew Hedman is an interesting accessible book about how scientists determine the age of everything from carved symbols found deep in the rain forests of Central America to the age of the Universe. Thanks to the knowledge of converging scientific endeavors such as history, archaeology, biology, chemistry, geology, physics, and astronomy, and a lot of ingenuity we are now able to determine with more precision the age of "everything". The book is composed of the following twelve chapters: 1. Introduction, 2. The Calendars of the Classic Maya, 3. Precision, Polaris, and the Age of the Pyramids, 4. The Physics of Carbon-14, 5. Calibrating Carbon-14 Dates and the History of the Air, 6. Carbon-14 and the Peopling of the New World, 7. Potassium, Argon, DNA, and Walking Upright, 8. Molecular Dating and the Many Different Types of Mammals, 9. Meteorites and the Age of the Solar System, 10. Colors, Brightness, and the Age of Stars, 11. Distances, Redshifts, and the Age of the Universe, and 12. Parameterizing the Age of the Universe.

Positives:
1. Interesting topic that shows what it takes to estimate the age of things.
2. Well written book that is accessible for all the science lovers in all of us. It takes some very complex topics and reduces it to a layman level of understanding and that is an accomplishment.
3. I'm in awe of human ingenuity! The book provides many examples of how converging sciences are used to come up with the most accurate age estimate possible.
4. You will end up with a much better understanding of how the decay of rate of known elements such as carbon-14 is used to determine the age of things.
Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L. Kelly on June 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book would be the perfect gift for the educated reader who has an interest in any of the following topics: the ancient Maya, ancient calendrical systems, human evolution, radiocarbon dating, potassium-argon dating, so-called "molecular clocks," the evolution of animals, the age of the universe, etc. Dr. Hedman demonstrates a thorough knowledge of a very wide range of scientific topics which are all thematically tied together by the idea of determining chronology and age. Anyone who has read Spencer Wells's popular books on human ancestry (or Brian Sykes's) will probably enjoy this book, which complements the others rather than duplicating their more involved discussions about molecular biology (the author is an astronomer-anthropologist rather than a geneticist). This book might also appeal to those who enjoy Jared Diamond's work. I think the book might be especially appealing to engineers and others with a grounding in "hard science" who have always had an interest in archaeology, human evolution, etc, but its inter-disciplinary focus makes the book appealing to a wide audience.

The only issue I have with the book is one common to non-specialists who write about archaeological cultures such as the ancient Maya: they are the Maya, not the Mayans (just as the term for one ancient culture in the South American Andes is the Inca [or Inka, to use a more modern, quechuanized spelling], not the Incans). You would think that editors from a top-notch academic press like Chicago would have insisted on using the correct terminology!
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