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You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe Hardcover – March 3, 2009
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I did come across one error in the book which I thought should be mentioned. On page 39 (hardcover edition) Potter states that the Andromeda Galaxy is twice the size of the Milky Way, when in fact, even though Andromeda has many more stars, the two are considered to be about the same size and mass. See the Andromeda Galaxy article on Wikipedia.
I'm editing this review to add another factual error I found: on page 109 Potter states that J.J. Thompson measured the charge of an individual electron. Thompson in fact measured the charge-to-mass ratio of the electron (after discovering it). It was Millikan who measured the charge of the electron.
So, now I'm wondering how much I can trust the facts in this book which are new to me.
The very fact that Christopher Potter is not himself a scientist or mathematician only underscores that the nutshell cosmology he offers has become a TALE, just as the opening chapters of Genesis are another kind of tale to a similar purpose.
One of the most interesting themes that emerges from Potter's book is the extent to which we cross out of the intuitive. He explains again and again that analogies will get us nowhere. That childlike comparisons with the familiar are more distortion than clarification. He even warns at times that to exert one's self too avidly to visualize some of the abstruse aspects of the quantum universe can hazard madness.
Didn't some wag say that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but is "stranger than we are capable of imagining?" Such an observation really fits here, for the quantum origins of the universe -- set about by Planck space and Planck time -- are of a weirdness almost beyond description.
Potter does not come up with much new in this book, despite suggestions to the contrary by other reviewers. Rather, he takes a large patchwork canvas of myriad scientific popularizations and homogenizes it into a smooth, lucid narrative. He adds a dash of personal observation from time to time, and a little humor.
This book is just a very good effort to tell "the one story only that is worth your telling," the same story set down in the opening chapters of Genesis. It is science crossing over into our own peculiar 21st Century myth.Read more ›
But this is not just about the physical sciences. Potter goes deeply into philosophy and biology as well. In a sense he is doing what I have done all my life, that is to look at all aspects of our existence and knowledge in an attempt to understand who I am, why I am here, and where I am going. I think Potter, who is something of social critic as well as a scientific generalist and journalist, does an admirable job. I have read other books that attempt something like this. Potter's is one of the most readable.
Potter begins with an "Orientation." We are here--at this point in time, at this place in the universe, at this stage of awareness. He follows this with Chapter 2: "26 Degrees of Separation," which is the number of degrees of mathematical magnitude in meters we are from the size of the universe (10 to the 26th). Potter gives a plethora of numerical information about things of various sizes, from the size of humans (John Keats was 1.54 meters tall, 5' 0.75 ''; the tallest people are found in Herzogovina and Montenegro where the average height of a male is 1.86 meters) through the distance to the Kuiper Belt (about 7.5 billion kilometers distance) to ultimately the radius of the visible universe (about 13 light years distance).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had some difficulty with this book though I found it chock- full of interesting information and speculation. Read morePublished on January 27, 2014 by Shalom Freedman
Just about everyone who enjoys reading about science will enjoy this book. The subtitle, "A Portable History of the Universe", indicates how ambitious the author's goal was in... Read morePublished on September 25, 2013 by R. Schwenk
This book is a great read and provides a useful perspective on the development of the universe. Highly recommended for any age.Published on September 24, 2013 by Thomas R. Henneberry
We all have those fleeting moments when a switch is suddenly flipped and you catch yourself zooming back to a wide-angle perspective on reality. Scary, isn't it? Read morePublished on June 14, 2013 by Omnivore
A great explanation of space and time, explaining early-on problems with past solutions and how we steadily advanced to what we understand now. Read morePublished on December 26, 2012 by TK
If you like to learn about the history of science , you will like this book . It's not just another book about it . It's a different point of view and a different way of learning .Published on December 9, 2012 by Philip
As good of a history of science and explanation of the universe and quantum science as a layman could ask for.Published on November 9, 2012 by R. Parker