From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Any reader who has avoided science for fear of being overwhelmed will find a friendly guide in Potter, former publisher of Fourth Estate who has a masters in the history and philosophy of science. He addresses the issue head-on by turning the problem into one of scale, taking readers outward in a literary Powers of 10 journey. From meters through kilometers to light-years, Potter takes readers beyond Earth's atmosphere, across the solar system and into deep space, where galaxies gather into vast superclusters. After this headlong rush, Potter offers a quick history of physics and a look at the quarks and gluons at the heart of matter. A quantum mechanics chaser segues into an intimate examination of the Big Bang and stellar formation to the coalescence of our own solar system and, finally, the evolution of life on the speck we call Earth. Giving equal weight to each topic, Potter's steady progression illuminates the ways in which they are all connected. This clear and smoothly written look at the mind-boggling history of everything is both informative and provocative. 10 b&w illus. (Mar.)
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Those for whom particle physics and string theory are impenetrable mysteries may not be entirely enlightened by Potter’s genial exegesis of the mysteries of the universe, in which quarks, squarks, and “vibrating lengths of pure energy” are elegantly expounded but remain irreducibly conceptual. Still, he gives a foothold to the floundering with evocative description—“A beard grows a few nanometres in the time taken to raise a razor to the skin”—and with liberal doses of trivia. Among other things, he notes that the moon was formed when a huge planetary collision blew the crust of the earth into the atmosphere, and that the human body contains ten times as many bacterial cells as human ones. Most compellingly, Potter examines the provisional nature of scientific inquiry, in which conjecture can lead to insight and a weakness of a hypothesis can become a strength.
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