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61 of 66 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 23, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I first must admit that my days taking physics at university are long behind me. And I found the subject more difficult than chemistry or biology, both of which I finally minored in. But I've retained a life-long interest in the subject, and happily pursue and digest popular science articles on the subject.

I was aware of the conundrum of the missing matter in the universe; it's a deep puzzle that still has cosmologists trying to figure out where the missing matter is (we know that the universe has to have a certain mass to explain the behavior of objects such as galaxies and galaxy clusters). It seems that ordinary matter (protons, electrons, neutrons and the whole panoply of the wave particles that we are familiar with) represents only about four percent of the matter that must be present in the universe.

Where, or what, is the missing 96%? That's the subject of this fascinating look at the current efforts to understand exactly what is going on. There are a variety of theories; so-called dark matter that we can't detect, dark energy, an even more mysterious hypothetical substance. Lately, there has been some evidence to show that contrary to what we used to believe, neutrinos do actually have a bit of mass. Given their relative abundance, this may help explain the missing mass.

The book is written by Richard Panek,a science writer for the popular press. He's written for magazines such as Discover, and he keeps his easy-to-understand writing style here. He highlights many of the scientists involved, how they've made their discoveries, and what they are doing to get to the bottom of the 21st century's greatest cosmology puzzle.

Highly recommended. This is a breezy, well-written book that will appeal to those lay persons who have an interest in the the large (galactic and otherwise) structures around us. Four-and-one-half stars.
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150 of 172 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 29, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you want to know all about the careers of the various scientists involved with the discovery that the universe we can see is but a fraction of the universe that is, this is the book for you. If you actually want to know more about the science, you'll be left unsatisfied.

In the first fifty-odd pages, the author introduces scores of scientists, gives their academic history, summaries of the projects they worked on before getting to whatever project they worked on that is actually relevant to the book, the conferences they attended, the papers they published, when they got married, how many kids they had, and so on. Oh, also, it mentions the discoveries that the universe is about 3 Kelvin, and that galaxies don't spin the same way solar systems do, but that's almost tangential.

After the first few chapters, it picks up a little, but not much.

In all, this is a book about people who do scientific research, not a book about science. It goes beyond the pop-science books that make sure to ground the discoveries in the social context straight through to being almost a compendium of mini-biographies. And even if that's what you like, the dry writing style makes it a chore to slog through.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2011
I'll bet the publisher insisted on this title, while the author's submitted title was then demoted to the subtitle: "The race to discover...," etc. More concerned with the details of the effort leading to discovery than to the actual discovery - and a soap-opera style accounting of the personalities involved - this work should please those interested in those aspects. If the science is what intrigues you, look elsewhere. This is not a science-for-the-public book like those written on Evolution by Richard Dawkins or on language by Steven Pinker.
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100 of 125 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2010
If you want to know why astrophysics is a sizzling science, read this book.

I see that there are a number of reviews here on Amazon, which I think is great. It shows that people care about the big questions-- what's the Universe made of? How do we know?

The review by Paul Preuss is particularly interesting. "Snarky" "virulent" "rancorous" Wow! Who knew science was so much fun?

Preuss doesn't reveal until the 27th paragraph that he is the Press Officer at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab whose job over the past decade has been to press the case for recognition of the work on dark energy done by scientists at his institution. There's nothing dishonorable about putting the best face on the work done by people at the Lab, whether it involves super-heavy elements, the Cosmic Microwave Background, or cosmic acceleration. After all, somebody has to make the case for science in a media atmosphere of Lady Gaga and the cat in the dumpster. But it would be asking too much for a person in his position to give a completely balanced account of a scientific discovery, like the discovery of cosmic acceleration, that took place over time and at many places, as described in the spellbinding new book by Richard Panek, The 4% Universe .

To avoid a similar gaffe, I should tell the reader right up front that I am the same Robert Kirshner referred to in Panek's excellent book. Not always with admiration, but he's not perfect and neither am I. The important thing is that all of the people in this book, and many left out, got to discover something big and wonderful about the universe in which we live. Panek is an excellent guide to that adventure.

Panek is a talented writer, a diligent researcher, and his book The 4% Universe is an exciting account of one of the most revolutionary discoveries in physical science. Great science is bigger than any of us. If you want a complementary perspective on these events, I can't recommend a better book than "The Extravagant Universe: exploding stars, dark energy, and the accelerating universe." It's by me, and I am a participant in the events, but I tried hard to stick to the facts. It's from 2002, still in print, and available in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Czech. The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos (Princeton Science Library)

In his Amazon review of Panek's book, Preuss offers his own version of the story starting (as if that were the start of the discovery of cosmic acceleration) with the establishment of the Center for Particle Astrophysics at Berkeley by the National Science Foundation. Preuss asserts without any evidence that I was opposed to the Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP) "from the moment I heard about it." I think I'm the only witness on this matter. It ain't so. I thought this project could be a good thing, and gave a talk at the opening symposium for the Center describing how you could use supernovae to find out how much the universe is slowing down. Little did I know it was speeding up! The LBL team asked me more than once to join the project. The Center for Particle Astrophysics asked me to serve on their External Advisory Committee. I would not waste my time to fly across the country to sit in darkened windowless rooms to watch hours of powerpoint presentations if I thought the project was not worth doing. The Center for Particle Astrophysics, with its healthy engagement with astrophysics, may be the place where Preuss first encountered the idea that supernovae could be used to measure the universe, but this idea has deep roots in astronomy, as sketched by Panek in The 4% Universe .

After Fritz Zwicky pioneered methods for finding supernovae through monthly searches in the dark of the moon, Walter Baade showed that the supernovae we now call Type Ia, the thermonuclear detonation of white dwarf stars, could be used to measure cosmic expansion. If supernovae all had the same intrinsic brightness, then you could judge their distances by their apparent brightness. If you also measured the redshift for the supernova, or its host galaxy, you could use the plot of distance against redshift to measure the history of cosmic expansion. This was clearly understood in the 1930s! In 1968, Charlie Kowal, who worked for Zwicky at Caltech, compiled the world's data and published an article in The Astronomical Journal that showed thermonuclear supernovae were pretty good standard candles with a scatter of about 60% in brightness. Kowal speculated that distances to individual objects might eventually be known to 5-10%. What's more, Kowal said, "It may even be possible to determine the second-order term in the redshift-magnitude relation when light curves become available for very distant supernovae." In plain english, that means he was thinking about using supernovae to gather evidence for the cosmic deceleration that everyone expected to see due to the effects of gravity. This is the measurement that, to everyone's surprise, showed evidence for cosmic acceleration when it was finally published in 1998.

Along the way in 1979, Gustav Tammann, working with Allan Sandage, showed how you could use the Hubble Space Telescope to measure distant supernovae and establish whether or not the universe was decelerating. But first, some important astronomical aspects of the supernovae needed to be sorted out. It turns out that mixed in with the thermonuclear explosions were some imposters-- supernovae that resembled SN Ia, but got their energy from the gravitational collapse of their cores. Astronomers, including me, began to get this straightened out in 1985.

Another complication comes from the thermonuclear supernovae. Preuss says about the 1990 establishment of the SCP "the physicists believed, {thermonuclear supernovae were} very similar in their brightness. " I don't know if that is accurate about the beliefs of physicists, but it certainly is not true about supernovae. Mark Phillips (later a member of the High-Z Team) began to see in 1986 that there's a factor of 3 in the range of intrinsic brightness of Type Ia supernovae. If you don't develop a method to compensate for this, to sort out the 75 watt bulbs from the 25 watters, you will make a mess of estimating distances from brightness. Physicists did not have a monopoly on understanding supernovae as tools for measuring the history of cosmic expansion, and in the early 1990s it was clear we all needed to learn more about the variety of supernovae from astronomical observations of nearby objects. My own team at Harvard worked hard on this aspect of the problem.

Methods for working out how to find supernovae with digital detectors were pioneered by a group of Danish astronomers in 1988. Their goal was to measure cosmic deceleration. There's no question that the LBL team later worked out their own way to detect supernovae in digital images of the sky, and they profited from the rapid technical advances in detectors and computers after 1988, but this was not a problem for which astronomers were waiting for intervention from superior beings, having already done it. More important was making precise observations of the supernova brightness through more than one filter. If you do not do this, you cannot, even in principle, tell the difference between supernovae that are dimmed by cosmic acceleration and supernovae that are dimmed by obscuring dust. The SCP made their earliest observations through only one filter. As Panek describes, I counseled them to do this measurement correctly. Maybe that's why Preuss thinks I was opposed to the project. But that's not right. I was only opposed to them making bad inferences from inadequate data.

In his review of The 4% Universe, Preuss says:
"With an initial small sample the SCP did indeed make bad guesses about the universe's weight and shape. But in 1994 they started collecting Type Ia supernovae by the fistful, having developed and applied methods that should have been obvious -- particularly to doubting astronomers."

The way this is written, a reader might think that those early "bad guesses" were made before 1994. In fact, the SCP reported these results at conferences in 1996 and published them in 1997. As for the "doubting astronomers" who seem like such dolts-- Danish astronomers were discovering supernovae in 1988 and by 1995 our High-Z supernova team, led by Brian Schmidt, was finding distant supernovae to go along with our nearby samples and making our own observations with carefully selected pairs of filters as imagined by Nick Suntzeff. This is the program that led to a good outcome in 1998.

As Panek makes clear, the early work from the SCP, led by Saul Perlmutter, was not "bad guesses", it was wrong. It claimed to rule out accelerating cosmologies. This was a small data set. Maybe the problem was bad luck. Maybe the problem was flaws in the way the observations were carried out and analyzed. Later observations by Saul's team were technically much better, and gave a different result, which makes me think the latter is more likely. But in 1996 and 1997, the LBL team was saying that supernovae showed there was no cosmic acceleration, and no need for dark energy. Theorists were frustrated. To some of them, dark energy would help fit all the pieces of cosmology together. But the SCP resolutely said the opposite. Cosmologist Mike Turner is quoted by Panek (on p.148) as saying (in jest!) at a 1996 conference in Princeton, "I don't think Saul is that stupid."

The competing High-Z team (the team I was on, just to be clear about loyalties) published a paper in The Astronomical Journal in September of 1998 called ""Observational Evidence from Supernovae for an Accelerating Universe and a Cosmological Constant" with Adam Riess as the first author. It was based on 50 supernova light curves and spectra, near and far. The SCP paper, published 9 months later, was based on 60, with all the nearby data obtained and previously published by astronomers in Chile, many of whom joined the High-Z team. Both groups found evidence for cosmic acceleration. In his review of The 4% Universe, Preuss characterizes the difference in the two results this way: "Large datasets are a physicist's playground. Astronomers are content with fewer data but pride themselves on analyzing each with great discrimination." I agree with the pride in craftsmanship part, but I don't think that in this context 60 and 50 are the difference between "large" and "fewer".

Though press releases and self-published items have a place, and seem very important to press offices, scientists know that publication in refereed journals is the only thing that really counts. There is no question about the order of publications in cosmic acceleration. Our High-Z team published a correct result in September 1998 and, in the same year, published two further papers giving all the technical details and inferring the dark energy equation-of-state-- a first step toward seeing whether the dark energy was or was not consistent with Einstein's cosmological constant. It was -- and much better measurements in the past decade are still consistent with this simplest form of dark energy. The SCP, having published a result claiming that dark energy was ruled out by their data in 1997, changed direction at the beginning of 1998, and in June of 1999 presented a strong case for cosmic acceleration. From 1998 through 2003, members of the High-Z Team published a series of papers with new results that enlarged the world's sample at low redshift and high, introduced the "rolling search" that has become the new standard, tested for systematic effects using spectra and infrared observations, and extended the redshift range of supernova cosmology over half way back to the Big Bang. The last bit, led by Adam Riess, is described in Panek's book in vivid detail. Preuss emphasizes the concordance of two different groups as sealing the deal with the astrophysical community. I think this stream of tests and improvements was also quite important, even though it all came from one team. The next paper with new results from the SCP appeared in 2003.

Panek alternates points of view in his chapters of The 4% Universe, sometimes giving the High-Z view and sometimes channelling the thoughts of the LBL group. In his review, Preuss quotes selectively from the chapters where Panek is trying to express how things looked to the LBL group. But in other chapters, some of the same events are described from another perspective (which I usually liked better!) It's very naughty to pretend one version of events is the whole truth while ignoring another view that is presented in the same book.

Here's what the LBL website says today:

"Dark energy was discovered in 1998 by Department of Energy- and NASA-funded scientists working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other institutions."

As you will learn from reading The 4% Universe, this is not the whole story. The discovery of the accelerating universe involved many people and many places, some of them funded by the National Science Foundation or other organizations and many at institutions that are not the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. For example, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the European Southern Observatory, the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, the University of Hawaii, and the Australian National University.

Preuss does do readers a service by reminding us that Panek had aspirations as an author of fiction. Fiction authors try to show events stem from the characters they create. Panek has created a fictional character who is something like me, but much more unpleasant. I call him "Cranky Kirshner." When Paul Pruess writes a tiresome 3 part diatribe in the LBL house organ, Panek says (p. 228) "In Cambridge, in an office half a mile up Garden Street from Harvard Square, a quivering hand reached for a keyboard." I may be assuming too much, but my office is described in an earlier chapter as a "duchy" half a mile from Harvard Square, and readers might reasonably conclude that I am the trembling typist. No! This is the fictional Duke, Cranky Kirshner. I guess Panek imagines an old guy with shaky hands. Panek's fictional muse omits to say it was a dark and stormy night. The non-fiction version is much less interesting. My actual response was glazed eyeballs and inaction.

Buy this book, read it with an open mind, note that it alternates points of view on contentious topics that you will have to balance out for yourself, and form your own opinion based on the whole. Cosmic acceleration has opened a great scientific adventure. And it is just beginning. Read this book and share in the fun!
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality

In reading this book I was reminded of a thing my granddad taught me, that one does not hug a theory and make the evidence conform to that theory, or delete that evidence. One instead must follow the evidence religiously and let it lead wherever it may.

Panek's book confirms the above, "follow the evidence," but also shows us that, that is NOT exactly what some scientists were doing. If they had a pet theory, some of them tweaked the "evidence"-the math, to fit their theory-, which seemed to them only natural. However, it wasn't the way you or I learned science, architecture or art. Tweaking erroneous math tended to slow progress and wasted time and money.

The material in Mr. Panek packed into this book is staggering, especially to a casual reader of cosmology, which I am. However, what we have learned, despite the mistakes, is/was even startling to scientists whose entire lives were/are dedicated to research and testing. What is laid bare here is something of which some of scientists vaguely suspected, while others remained essentially clueless. But never did the truth, the reality, occur to the vast majority of scientists; although a good many suspected the reality, they had no proof, or at least not solid truth. That reality was/is that their knowledge of the content of the entire universe was 96% in error.

The author shows that the prevailing view of the cosmos was incredibly wrong. The truth is that they/we, were missing 96% of the energy and matter of the Universe! Ninety-six percent! In other words in a physics test on the content of the universe the world's top physicists, astronomers, cosmologists on content would find majority of them with a failing grade of only 4%, by way of having never heard of let alone never seen 96% of the matter/Energy of the entire universe. Herein we hear and see as close as possible how the great minds made tremendous discoveries but though suspicious of something missing, were still missing the bulk of this universe.

Off in the distance was a chalice, the holy grail of physics, cosmology and astronomy. For those who were able to find a new and viable explanation of the how, what, and where, as well as why, in the offing were/are, Noble Prizes, awards for equipment, technology and status, as well as personal esteem and justification for those who were close to the truth, or for those whom everyone else thought were close to the truth.
Simplifying physics, astronomy, cosmology is a very difficult thing. This author, however, did exactly what was needed; he made the complex seem rather understandable. Wisely, the author knew well the adage that for each formula an author displays, he will lose several thousand readers. Panek is no fool, so you will need a magnifying glass to find formulae herein.

About 4.5 billion years after the birth of our planet, and about 15 billion years after the birth of the universe, the population of Homo sapiens sapiens has at least some knowledge of the universe in which they dwell. It may still be speculative, primitive, even fanciful, but it is, never the less, a start.

In this epic trip across time and space to our present proposed state of the universe, at least as we currently understand it, is extremely well told. Herein, Panek rapidly, but thoroughly, cruises, pushes and wends his way from the beginnings of curiosity to the present time, with speed, dexterity and intelligence. He covers, mostly the last few dozen decades within which we traverse back and forth, some 15 billion years.

This is one book on physics, cosmology and astronomy, which is a joy to behold, fun to read and for many people, parts of it will be a startling revelation. Cosmology, is a bit like theology, in that errors seem to most people to mean one thing, to some truth, to others a conspiracy theory. Often they are neither of the above, they are just a path which may lead to the truth, or at least lead to taking a different path.

I, perhaps much like you, grew up many years ago in an era in which those who studied the sciences and theology, regardless of their zeal, knew a secret of which many others seemed not to be even remotely aware. To this day, nothing in that regard has changed. Subjects like astronomy, cosmology, and anthropology (and theology), are not an exact science...not yet anyway.

We also know from author Panek, that most people believe there is but one version of the "Big Bang" theory. Not so, there are many and most of them today are in deep dispute. That like all theories is based upon educated guesses, which are often incredibly inaccurate and are just as, or more often, incorrect. The Hubble Constant, for instance, is shown herein to be anything but constant. Often physicists, as Panek points out, like many modern lawmen, do not always follow the evidence, and in fact, often fudge, squeeze the math to match the current or pet theory, as this book so readily informs us. Getting it wrong may cost a great deal of time and money, but if they feel the need to know a thing for certain, that is the only path open to them. Why we think we need to know is another matter entirely.

However, the book points out the failures of equipment, technology, ideas, and theories. That is all expected and in fact, one cannot succeed without ideas, even if/when many of them fail, without following them through to determine their efficacy, we cannot know their efficacy or lack thereof. Only in experimentation, probing, thinking and yes, sometimes throwing the dice a bit, can they have even a slight chance of discovery of either their errant or correct path.

One Critic says, "A superior account of how astronomers discovered that they knew almost nothing about 96 percent of the universe." I quote the above from a review provided by Amazon, because it is true, as the title indicates.

Panek is a dedicated science writer, trusted by scientists to comprehend and deliver a discernable text on scientific matters that need to be narrated. Among his many science books are, The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes, 2005, and much more)

He shows us how over the decades, some astronomers thought that they knew and understood the cosmos including its growth from nothingness into a universe. Thought they had in hand, every important thing from the Big Bang followed by galaxy configuration to its end as expansion drew it out too far for gravity and the quantum to hold everything together.

However, one problem, at least on the surface, Panek says, was that Hubble was a bit off the path because the Galaxies were moving much too fast to meet his calculations. More than that, if gravity did maintain movement, the galaxies had to be heavier than the physicists anticipated. The math, though it was off, was headed in the right direction, but still too conservative. Given that often the math was often jiggled to meet the theory, either a correction was needed, or the formula needed to be reconsidered. The mass was obviously somewhere within those galaxies because they were, by then able to figure out the weight of the matter close enough to know that mass was obviously missing, but where was it?

It was soon to become a rather large problem because it was increasingly clear that the galaxies, including ours, were spinning so fast that missing mass actually far outweighed the visible bodies such as stars. Even after examining gas and dust, this invisible or very "Dark Matter" appeared to be more than a little strange. There were in the galaxies bodies, or particles which were at this point and maybe forever, unknown to science. One thing they did know, however, was that gravity, the thing that holds everything together was a drag on the universe... it appeared to be slowing the expansion of the universe. If true; one of the many theories would be that galaxies would reverse themselves, continue to recede ever more slowly or stop entirely, a forecast that meant the end of the universe.

One of the fascinating ideas which the author discusses is that the universe may collapse upon itself and then re-expand into another Big Bang, but maybe without the Bang. Maybe this has happened before? If that is so what of the quantum? The Oscillating Universe ala Friedmann/Einstein; was Einstein's choice after rejecting his own 1917 model. In the 1920s Einstein favored the Expanding and contracting in cycles where time is endless and without a Big Bang and thus avoids the beginning-of-time paradox. That borders on the old Steady State theory, which most Christian scientists thought was more likely and fitting to their belief system. However, science is as much a religion as is theology, so the two theoretical paths often intersect and just as often cross and/or bounce off each other.

A side note is that theory is a close match with some ideas of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. They share a belief that the Universe passes through endless cycles of Oscillation, each cycle lasting for trillions of years (331 trillion years + one billion, or the life-span of Brahma, according to Hinduism, and each cycle with sub-cycles of local creation and destruction (about. 4.32 billion years, or a day of Brahma, according to Hinduism). Others interpret this cycle of Oscillation at every eight (8) to sixteen (16) billion years, still others, to 80 billion years.

Panek keeps the error ridden attempts at figuring out the mechanism of the universe, which are followed by various important successes, in fast motion, moving quickly over eons of mistakes and failure, followed by flashes of truth, only arrived at by learning from the mistakes, or even at times, by luck. Panek shows us the seemingly endless failures of instruments, especially cameras drove inventers toward newer technologies like digital photography. Digital Photography was a very necessary development as it made visible Supernovae, which could never have been seen before. Panek also discusses various lenses, most of which were later to prove inadequate to catch the necessary data or images especially of Supernovae, which drove them to create new and better lenses. Therein stand the keys to the theories of expansion and red shift method of measuring distance. What once was a journey of three steps forward and two and seven eighth's steps backwards, became perhaps three steps forward and two and three quarters steps backward. A slow gain, still unsure, but never-the-less. necessary.

There were among the men and women whose lives played out in the pursuit of the unknown to make the unknown knowable, the usual human tics, of jealousies, bitter competitions, envy, impatience and at times great and heroic collaboration, cooperation.
Almost as frustrating as the universe seeming to hide its origins, were/are the daily struggles of many sorts. We see examples of insufficiently reliable high-tech detectors, confusing computer algorithms and ever growing and gargantuan telescopes to search distant galaxies for the key, camera's which prove not up to the task of reading, and allowing enough light to be detected, making catching the light of Supernovae difficult to detect, as I mentioned earlier.

Some readers will learn that theories are initially just this, outside the box, innovative, ideas supported by feeble to growing evidence, hopefully enforced eventually by formulae. These then, as we now know because of this book and other like it, are not a great deal more than guesses, educated guesses, indeed, but guesses none-the-less, and guesses of which for many, die hard, but many die never the less. Among such near extinct are the much misunderstood, Big Bang, which is now the label for maybe a dozen theories all of which differ in one way or another, most of which day by day, discovery by discovery, are annihilated to make room for more theories, which according to all involved in the book and outside of it, may never in the tenure of homo sapiens sapiens existence, be fully understood.

Panek says that by the late `90s expansion of our universe was shown to not be slowing down but instead it was speeding up. Dumbfounded astronomers knew that accelerating billions of galaxies is dependent upon near incalculable energy. Once Einstein proved that energy and mass are equivalent, (E=MC-2- (squared) the so-called, "dark energy" makes up about 73% of the universe. With "dark matter" adding another 23%, reduces the visible, (at least to Earthlings) to 4 percent of the total mass, and with no clue, yet how it all came to be.

Altogether Mr. Panek brings the reader clear cut explanations and smooth sketches of a science which upon seeing the interior of the search for the seeming unknowable reveals smart men and women trying feverishly to make some sense of a seeming impossible problem in math, observation, interpretation, theory, aided by slow, tedious research, unending research all of which has brought us in several thousand years to this point: More of us now know, (but not nearly enough) that for all the hard work and study by some great minds, we may never know how things really came about in the construction of this universe, but there was seldom a more interesting ride than following the evidence, searching and making some tiny headway now and then.

The work place of these scientists, like those of most other professions is often a jealous rivalry which quickens the pace, driving them to a hustle they would never have encountered, never had to endure in eons past, all of which led to a now more forthright assessment of where we are in cosmology and a scientific revolution and cooperation of sorts that has speeded up a process once ego driven, once protective of pet theories which could stand for decades but now are lucky to make it through a summer.

The author shows us that we are in a new age of astronomy, cosmology and physics; an age in which, at least in some places, cooperation, honesty and honor supercedes the egocentric-know-it -all. Now, lay people who read this fascinating book can know the truth about this science, which for all the new technology, all the brilliant mind, math, observations, and formulae, there is still a strong segment of hunches-guess work, but guess work that now and then, here and there, breaks through and gives us a closer look, a look which frightens those who thought the Big Bang of 70 years ago was concrete, dogma/fact, but which gives hope to many others because we know one thing, 96% of the universe is not visible, at least not to us, and 4% is all that we do see. What is the rest? "Dark Energy" is about 73% of the universe and "dark matter" about 23%, which reduces the visible, to (4%) four-percent of the total mass/energy spectrum, and with no clue yet how it all came to be.

If you are open minded about science, here is the gospel from an insider, writer Richard Panek. Scientists do not like to be interviewed by amateurs. If a writer lacks a solid reputation at success, at strong enough understanding of turning complex science into easily comprehendible print, scientists will not allow an interview, and without them your book is a harder sell. A science writer has to have the intellectual ability to properly interpret what he is seeing and hearing from those he interviews and/or from documents and be able to properly interpret what they are learning.

Panek did a great job and if you like science, you will like this book.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2011
I am very impressed by the depth of Panek's research and his ability to summarize a whole century of cosmology in 240 pages, which is crowned with the discovery in 1998 by Perlmutter et al. and Riess et al. of the accelerating Universe and an associated mysterious vacuum or "dark" energy, one of the most important stories in science. As Panek says it, 1998 was a time of inflection in cosmology since "the Universe wasn't what it used to be". By incorporating the very human side to these developments, Panek achieves a nice balance with the scientific content of the book. At the same time, he makes justice to Calán/Tololo (C&T) contribution to this amazing discovery, which has been often neglected. A new evidence of this is Robert Kirshner's conspicuous omission of the C&T project in his comment to Panek's book, you can see it at [...]

Central to the book is the supernova experiment consisting in measuring distances to nearby and distant supernovae. As Kirshner says it in his review, this idea has deep roots in astronomy, going back to the pioneering work of Baade & Zwicky in the 30's, Kowal in 1968, Sandage & Tammann in the 70's, Kirshner in the 80's, and of course his group at Harvard in the 90's. Panek does not forget two relevant works in this field: the one by the Russian astronomer Yuri Pskovskii in 1977 who found the first evidence that thermonuclear (called Type Ia) supernovae were not perfect standard candles, and the one by the C&T team including astronomers from the Universidad de Chile (José Maza) and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (Nicholas Suntzeff, Mark Phillips and myself)) that provided the pioneering work in the early 90's, that led directly to the discovery of acceleration in 1998.

The C&T project was initiated in 1989 (nearly at the same time and independently from the SCP led by S. Perlmutter), four years before Kirshner's student, Adam Riess, began his first studies at Harvard on Type Ia supernovae, and five years before Brian Schmidt and Nicholas Suntzeff launched the High-Z Team in 1994.
When we started the C&T project in 1989 no one could measure distances with the accuracy needed for detecting the acceleration of the Universe. This situation had changed dramatically by 1993, time at which our group had made six remarkable achievements, namely:

(1) the discovery of 29 Type Ia supernovae (a world record at the time, and succeeding where other astronomers such as Sandage & Tammann had previously failed),
(2) the recording of the most precise light curves ever obtained at that time, thanks to the recently adopted revolutionary CCD technology in astronomy,
(3) the proof that Type Ia supernovae were not perfect standard candles,
(4) the demonstration that Phillips' 1993 relation was qualitatively correct,
(5) the most precise calibration of the supernova luminosities at the time, and last but not least
(6) the establishment of key tools to measure distances with a precision never reached before.

The C&T project was truly revolutionary. Our work invented the method, showed to others how to apply it, and generously allowed Harvard's astronomers Riess and Kirshner in 1994 to have privileged access to the C&T unpublished data to test their own technique to fit supernova light-curves (which led to Riess' PhD thesis published in 1996). It was the C&T project that inspired Schmidt and Suntzeff to initiate the High-Z Team in 1994. The C&T light curves represent half of the measurements used in 1998 by Perlmutter et al. and a good fraction of the High-Z Team measurements by Riess et al. that led to discover the acceleration.

Without the C&T work, there would have been no Type Ia measurement of acceleration. The C&T work was the pioneering work that allowed it all to happen.
Thanks to Panek's book a much broader audience will get to know that the C&T was a seminal work done by a key group of international astronomers in Chile, independently from the SCP and High-Z Team, without which the 1998 discovery by these two groups would not have been possible.

Soon after Kirshner and Riess obtained from us, in 1994, access to the unpublished C&T database, they began a road show, leading the scientific and general community to believe that the Harvard group had invented the method, while leaving out of history the key role of the C&T project in this field. Therefore, Kirshner's omission in his review of the C&T project comes as no surprise. In contrast to Kirshner's biased account of what happened, Panek's public recognition to our work comes from an impartial observer and a prestigious science journalist. His book brings about justice on how "the race to discover the rest of reality" truly happened.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2011
This book conveys well most of the information (available up through 2008/2009) about astrophysics that one can obtain by reading popular science magazines such as New Scientist and Scientific American. Mr. Panek accurately describes the physical processes occurring in the universe as they are presently understood. The book begins very well; the writing is strong and highly engaging. About midway through, however, it shifts to a more conversational tone, anecdotes pile up and cliches creep in, too much emphasis is placed on personalities. The reader will notice a cut-and-paste feel in later chapters. The author describes several linear relationships and the significance of new data indicating that these relationships remain linear or begin to curve --- but he doesn't provide any drawings or graphs, which would have appealed to and been understood by many readers. Graphs, charts, tables ... they are regularly used in Time, Business Week and the daily newspaper ... educators lament the fact that students have no facility or acquaintance with them. And here we have a 320-page book about the leading edge of science composed entirely of prose, not a single graph, table or mathematical formula. At least show us some of Einstein's equations and where he felt he needed to insert his "fudge factor" lambda; surely this would be as interesting to most readers as writing a "1" followed by 500 zeros!

Those who grew up on science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s will remember the overpowering sense of awe and excitement a teenager got from the work of writers like Arthur C. Clarke. Today, most of those books seem pretty cheesy, while the developments over the past thirty years in astrophysics, effectively communicated in books like this one and others linked to it on amazon, are breathtaking. I'd wager that events and discoveries over the next thirty years will be much more so. But still, needed: a few good new science fiction writers ... .
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2011
Disclaimer: This is a review for the British edition of this book, which I expect is very similar to the American version other than having pounds and kilometers in place of dollars and miles, etc.

The "what's it all about" topic of this book couldn't be more alluring. As a former physics student and astronomy junky I was immediately drawn to it, and I imagine a lot of people are/were. But the title is a bit misleading. This book is less about the theory of dark matter and dark energy as it is about how we arrived at believing they might exist, and who brought us. The history lesson at the beginning is useful, as it builds background so we can know the giants' shoulders and what a twisted road it was to get to the time of computers analyzing data on supernovas for the purpose of understanding the nature of the universe itself.

However, much of the book takes jarring and unnecessary turns between the science involved and the personalities and relationships of the major players. I found it difficult to follow at times because I was left unsure of what was just meant when it was time to move on. Not to carry the analogy too far, but it's a bit like being on a whirlwind tour of a fascinating city, hearing a snippet about a particularly interesting spot, and then being whisked on to the next stop when you want to cry "But wait, Mr. Tourguide, we didn't really get the gist of that last one!"

What could have made this book better:

* Some charts, tables, drawings, photos, formulas ... anything to break the text up a bit.
* Less personal drama. I want more of PBS's Nova and less of "As the World Turns."
* Better copy editing. Too many typos leave me wondering about the ones I didn't catch.
* More depth to the discussion of the science. If you throw particles around, give me more about that physics so I'm better oriented to understand how it fits in.

In short, this book aimed for a great target but landed short.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had such hopes for this book when I started reading it. It begins with the story of the "accidental" discovery by a couple of Bell Labs physicists of the cosmic background radiation, confirming a theory that had recently been developed by Princeton cosmologists.

But sadly, the author never really got himself going. He seems to swing between excessive interest in the "soap opera" parts about the rivalry between competing groups of researchers, and ineffectual attempts to explain the science. He struggles even to explain simple concepts and theories, perhaps because he himself doesn't quite understand them. I struggled through the book, but at the end felt that the author hadn't taught me a whole lot. Excluding the discussion of personalities & rivalries, I would summarize thus: "Many scientists struggled for years to figure out that the universe is larged dark matter and dark energy, but we don't have any idea what those things are, and the theories are incomplete."

Other criticisms: Among the annoyingly odd things in the book, he tries to describe graphs without using any pictures at all ... why? I myself would also have liked some representation of the mathematics, because I believe that many of those interested in this kind of topic has had at least some math & science education, and the others can ignore them. But I'm aware that publishers think that the poets will be put off by the very appearance of any symbols anywhere in the book.

I can't recommend this book at all. I wish there were one that dealt better with this topic, something as good as Stephen Hawking's books (or George Gamow's books from a long time ago that explained modern physics of that era).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I really enjoyed this book, but you should go into it knowing that it's not a "hard science" book. Instead, what this book does is tells the story of how the science of dark matter/dark energy has progress up to this point. For each component it weaves a story of the scientists and the science, letting you glimpse at how they got into the field and why they stayed and struggled for so long to gather the data which would push the field a tiny bit further as well as looking at what those struggles were. Not only does it give a nice overview of where the dark matter and dark energy field is today, but it provides an important reminder that science isn't set in stone and that it isn't always easy.

If you're interested in the story check this book out, you won't be disappointed. If you're interested in the science, better look elsewhere.
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