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The Book of Universes: Exploring the Limits of the Cosmos Hardcover – June 20, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0393081213 ISBN-10: 0393081214

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081213
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,103,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Starred Review. A narrative laced with humor and poetry . . . mind-expanding.” (Booklist)

“A solid overview of the evolution of cosmology, with illuminating coverage of the current state of the art.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“As it turns out, exercising the brain cells in thinking about such matters is great fun, and The Book of Universes is an excellent place to start such an exploration.” (New Statesman)

“Entertaining and accessible.” (Publishers Weekly) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

John D. Barrow is professor of mathematical sciences and director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He is the best-selling author of many books on science and mathematics, including Mathletics: 100 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know about the World of Sports and 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent overview of historic and current thought on the universe.
R. Golen
He has an excellent treatment of "probable" and "possible" universes and how they relate to anthropic arguments -- best layman explanation I've seen.
Paul R. Thompson
I highly recommend this book as both thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating -- no matter how many other cosmology books you may have already read.
vic plichota

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Paul R. Thompson on July 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is hard to beat as a broad survey of cosmology for the interested layman. Specialists, or graduate physics/astrophysics students will want something with more mathematical rigor and detail, but for those who have been regularly reading articles on cosmology and related fields in periodicals like Discover, Scientific American, and New Scientist, and have been exposed to informed glimpses into cosmology, this book gives a fuller, well rounded, well organized overview of the current state of cosmology -- for under $20.

Barrow's The Constants of Nature is very good, but Universes is much better.

Barrow starts with a survey of the cosmology viewpoints from Aristotle up to Schwarzschild circa 1915: some fanciful theories and some presaging modern theories in a naive sort of way. 1916 is the year Einstein introduced the theory of general relativity. Barrow's systematic yet understandable reviews of the various proposed solutions to the Einstein field equations, and the different universes implied, is a major strength of the book. The book is true to it name in giving clear explanations of alternatives: open, closed, flat, curved, expanding, collapsing and cycling universes that are solutions to the field equations. Due credit is given to the originators of the various models: de Sitter's universe, Friedmann's universe, Lemaitre's universe etc. The models are summarized in the chart put together by Ed (Ted) Harrison (page 73). I'd actually taken a cosmology course from Harrison in '66 or '67 at UMass -- he was an excellent lecturer. (I think there is some confusion in citing Ed and Ted as brothers - one at UMass and one at Arizona - but they are the same person.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Kirk on June 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an exceptional science book. Barrow is readable, he sprinkles his explanations with interesting insights and Notes, and helpful illustrations balance out every few pages. His chapters and subchapters provide topic headings which assist the reader build and remember an understanding of the concepts being explored. The topic, theories of the structure and history of the universe, may generally lend to Barrow's capacity to build a cogent, cursive and historically clear comparison of these theories but many notable authors fail to achieve such systematic discussion on this kind of topic. For many Amazon reviews, I have tried to put my finger on what is missing - no more, Barrow gets it right with titles and structure, with figures and notes used appropriately.

The universes, and multiverse, which Barrow explores are diverse, often related, and inspired by many philosophical (or not) perspectives. His explanation of anthropic universes is, as is to expected from a leading theorist in that area, excellent and his Euclidian example of the possible non-rigidity of the laws and constants of physics is one of the best going. I feared that the home-made universes and fake universes might be going beyond the science, but these pages were particularly rewarding and benefitted from Barrow's mathematical perspective - they were both entertaining and thought provoking.

Overall, this book is in many ways a focussed history of science. To his credit, Barrow does not avoid technical and mathematical explanations completely, but the reader is sometimes left to accept a complex premise or theory in good faith. I have found a few insignificant typos and while this does not detract, as a novice to many of the fields Barrow discusses, one can only hope there are no typos in the important stuff.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Didaskalex VINE VOICE on July 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"It appears as though random processes have determined vital aspects of our universe, the matter anti-matter balance, the density of atomic matter, the strength and orientation of magnetic fields. ...For every mystery solved a new one is introduced. The Inflationary theory implies a universe of expanding bubbles, and not just one universe, but many universes." -- Robert Schaefer

My own first encounter with the expanding universe, came with my first reading of, 'The Mysterious Universe', by Sir James Jeans. Astronomy could only be advanced creatively during a critical period in human history, starting with Copernicus and culminating with the NASA programs and the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble imagery has both delighted and amazed people around the world and has rewritten astronomy textbooks with its discoveries. Edwin Hubble's discovery of an expanding universe presented cosmology with a key data point, a key to factual information, acquired from study of measurement. The expansion of the universe implied a beginning, a position developed in the 1940s by George Gamow and coworkers, now known as the Big Bang.

Observations and research reinforced this concept, and discerning the true position of quantum mechanics started to clarify the early moments following the initial explosion. In Dr. R Schaefer Logic, "For a universe to exist, it too needs an observer: the cosmologist. For any universe to be observed by a cosmologist, that universe must have expanded enough to link time and space, and must have expanded at a critical rate. If that universe instead expanded too fast, galaxies wouldn't form. If it expanded too slowly, it would condense into black holes instead of stars.
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