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The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity

34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684865768
ISBN-10: 0684865769
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Editorial Reviews Review

There's a reason "astronomically large" means "larger than the scale of ordinary life": normal scales of time and space for astronomers involve millions of years and anywhere from thousands to quadrillions of kilometers. Even for astronomers, University of Michigan professor Fred Adams and his former student Greg Laughlin think big--really, really big--and their planning is really, really long-term.

In The Five Ages of the Universe, Adams and Laughlin present their vision of the history of the universe, from the big bang on. They've had to come up with a new unit of measure to make this timescape intellectually tractable: the "cosmological decade." When the universe is 10 to the n years old, it is in the nth cosmological decade; we are now in the 10th, for instance. Each decade is thus 10 times as long as the one before.

All the stars will have stopped shining in the 14th cosmological decade, about 100 trillion years from now--which is a mind-bendingly long period of time by most standards. But Adams and Laughlin are just getting their speculations warmed up. They go on to fold, spindle, and mutilate your time sense as they discuss the Degenerate Era (out to decade 39), the Black Hole Era (to decade 100), and the possible creation of new universes in the Dark Era (after decade 101 or so). It's the most fascinating, mind-expanding trip inside eternity you can read. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Piling one layer of speculation upon another yet retaining a disciplined, scientific approach, astrophysicists Adams (University of Michigan) and Laughlin (UC-Berkeley) take readers on a cosmic adventure to a time in the unimaginably distant future. They view time not in linear years but in logarithmic cosmological decades. We live early in the 10th cosmological decade, approximately 10 billion (10 to the 10th power) years since the Big Bang. For the first six cosmological decades, the Primordial Era, the authors explain, an intensely hot universe expanded and cooled. Elementary particles formed, followed by atoms and molecules. The stage was set for the present Stelliferous Era of galaxies, stars and planets that will continue through the 14th cosmological decade. Our universe will then be 10,000 times its present age, and even its slowest-burning stars will have used up their nuclear fuel. Stellar remnants will dominate the next 25 cosmological decades, the Degenerate Era. Following that will be the Black Hole Era, more than 60 cosmological decades long. The final chapter will be the Dark Era, a steadily diminishing, infinitely long decline toward universal equilibrium. The authors speculate on the survival of intelligent life through the entire history. They also discuss the evolution of universes in Darwinian terms. Many readers will reach their saturation point for conjecture well before those final sections, but others, especially science fiction buffs, will savor every lengthening, darkening, diminishing epoch leading to the authors' concluding vision: the birth of new universes more than 100 cosmological decades after ours burst into existence. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (January 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684865769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684865768
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book constitutes one of the best books I have ever read. The manner in which the authors collect and synthesize the information currently comprising the envelope of scientific knowledge in astronomy, cosmology, biology and other relevant fields provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the universe. The first time I read this book I was stunned by the amount of information I absorbed and by the new avenues that this information opened in my quest for understanding the origin of humanity and of the universe. I had to read this book a second time because many of the concepts discussed therein were difficult to truly comprehend initially.
This book is extremely well written, unlike other similar books. The authors anticipated my questions in many cases and addressed them in subsequent paragraphs. A technical/scientific inclination would definitely be helpful while reading this book, but is probably not necessary.
To synthesize, if you are interested in investigating how everything that we observe originated and will vanish in the future, read this book.
Further, if you want to place the existential question of God in a proper scientific framework (as proper as we can devise at this time), read this book. This book shows that science has confined the intervention of "God," (and this God could be our classic biblical god or another intelligent species residing somewhere else in the multiverse) to a fraction of the first second of the Big Bang, if such an intervention did occur at all.
Finally, I admire the restraint exercised by the authors by never explicitly refuting religious beliefs even when the scientific data strongly pointed in that direction. No readers will probably be offended by reading this book, regardless of their religious beliefs.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Regnal the Caretaker on November 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I love and collect books about cosmology since many years. This one was a great reading. Not only about the beginning and current state, but also about the fate of the Universe in the future.
Time will show how these computer simulated predictions are accurate. But it will not be you or me of course to observe it.
Book as for today is a bit outdated, does not take under consideration new discoveries like dark energy and acceleration of the Universe.
I have asked Professor Adams about it and he e-mailed: "the biggest change to our vision of the future comes in the Dark Era; positronium formation will be less likely, and a vacuum phase transition will be more likely if the Universe has a component of this dark energy. The basic picture however is still correct". What I really like about this book is that it gets even more interesting in the end. Explanation of quantum mechanical tunneling and possibilities of sudden cosmic scale phase transition is so vivid that I had a hard time to fall a sleep. My imagination was running wild ignited by description of space-time foam and multiverses. Summarizing: it was easy, quick and enjoyable learning about not so easy subjects. "References and further reading" list included in this book is worth to have a look as well.
Professor Adams is currently working on his new book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mark E. Miller on May 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In my former career as a geologist, I was used to contemplating vast stretches of time. The basic unit we used was a million years; the fossil communities I was studying lived about 500 mybp (million years before present). If my students boggled, as they sometimes did, at the thought of the ice ages taking place hundreds of thousands of years ago, I would smugly say, "Oh, that's nothing - just yesterday!" Little did I know, that for truly overwhelming timescapes, you need to turn to astronomy. In their new book "The Five Ages of the Universe" (1999, Simon & Schuster), Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin consider the longest timescales imaginable - not the past only, but the far future of the universe.
Many years ago, physicist Philip Morrison narrated what I think is the finest short science video ever made - "Powers of Ten". This starts at a familiar human scale, and zooms out by a factor of ten every ten seconds until reaching the size of clusters of galaxies; then reverses the process and zooms in to a proton in a carbon atom; in effect creating a logarithmic scale model of the universe. Adams and Laughlin apply the same logarithmic concept to time instead of distance. They speak of "cosmological decade n" when the universe is 10^n years old. For example, we are now living in the tenth cosmological decade, since about 10^10 years have passed since the Big Bang.
The five eras of the universe, then, are:
The Primordial Era (-15 < n < 5) From the Big Bang to 10,000 years later - inflation, the excess of matter over antimatter, primordial nucleosysthesis, the horizon and flatness problems, and the recombination of electrons with nuclei making the universe transparent - the cosmic background radiation.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kiran Parkhe on July 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Five Ages of the Universe showcases the grandeur of the universe in all its glory. Because the time scales are so far-removed from the world as we observe it, time is measured logarithmically. This allows us to see farther into the past -- and the future -- than many of us could have dared to imagine.
Throughout the course of this book, late-breaking scientific material is introduced, and yet -- although it is accurate -- the material is not so technical as to be intimidating. Indeed, it turns out to be quite the opposite, a dazzling show where nothing is made up.
But the authors do not stop there. They also continually extrapolate the scientific points into the implications of those points. For example: The proton matter in the nuclei of atoms in our universe is currently thought to be slightly unstable. Well, okay, you say to yourself... I think that's something which can safely be ignored. NO! What that means, is that the core of the stuff that makes the stars, the rest of the universe, and us, is destined to dissolve! This is similar to dissolving a complex substance, with an acid, into its most simple components. Read the book to see the profound implications of that point -- and many others.
One of the most important parts of this book is that it is not dry. The authors often spice up the already fascinating description of the universe with many further "What if"'s. What if life had less energy? Could it compensate for this problem by lowering its rate of metabolism? What if a star collided with our sun? You'd be surprised how many erroneous assumptions you probably make on a regular basis, and how happy you'll be to learn the unexpected -- but beautiful -- truth.
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