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How It Ends: From You to the Universe Hardcover – April 19, 2010
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A scientific view of the apocalypse unfolds in this tour of terminations. An astronomer by trade, the author eventually addresses how the universe will chill down, but first he explains how you will chill down. Completing his discussion of death with a biological description of the inevitable, Impey tarries with commiserative commentary about its awful finality and with the ideas of technofuturists (or fantasists) for delaying or stopping the aging process. Also in peril of extinction is the entire human species, and Impey ambles through the ways that could happen (the march of natural selection; a close-by supernova explosion) before he proceeds to demolish hope in the endurance of terra firma. Because the sun’s bloat into a red giant star guarantees the earth’s demise, can’t humanity move its home to clement cosmic climes or take up residence on another planet? Theoretically possible, Impey replies, but ultimately futile in an eternally expanding universe in which every particle is fated to decay. Delivering bad news with a bemused touch, Impey entertains as he informs about the facts of life and death. --Gilbert Taylor
A scientific view of the apocalypse unfolds in this tour of terminations. . . . Impey entertains as he informs about the facts of life and death. — Booklist
Eminently readable. . . . Impey injects humor throughout. — Library Journal
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What impresses me most about this book is the author's range of knowledge about the subjects being discussed, and his ability to impart it to the reader in an interesting and thoughtful manner. He brings his own reflections and experiences into the discussion, which only adds to the import of the book. There is much to reflect on while reading "How it Ends", and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in pondering the question, what's it all about?
Ironically, Chris Impey's How It Ends is really a quest to discover where we are going. Impey does this consistently by exploring the lives of larger structures such as the Fate of species, Beyond Natural Selection, The Web of Life, Threats to the Biosphere, Living in the Solar System, the Sun's Demise, Our Galactic Habitat and finally, How the Universe Ends.
We are immediately shaken by the reality that Impey bestows through his work. Yet, our eyes are opened to the vague concerns we all foster in the back of our minds. Of course, the amount of time involved for nature to carry out her demise is daunting to comprehend. But scientists are grappling with ever more unsettling ideas than things phasing out. Impey concludes that even though life may seem distressing, it's still great to know that we are alive.
What makes the book particularly interesting is its non-cosmological first part. The first section on the decay of any living being and individual mortality is fascinating. The book could have devoted some more space speculating whether/how in a 1000 or so years there could be human beings living hundreds of years (the topic of elongation of our lives and our existence in other forms - like digital data - is covered but rather too briefly).
The sections that follow on the near future (by the cosmic standards) involve myriads of ways how our specie, the animal life on the planet and even the earth itself could go extinct. The biosphere discussions provide a more comprehensive makeover to the book before the author slips into his own area of expertise: cosmology.
While the explanations/summaries are lucid and the flow is engaging, the discussions on the demise of the sun, stars, galaxies and even the universe are unlikely to add anything new to anyone who has read a handful of books on the cosmic theories. For the readers coming across the topics for the first time, the discussions of the multitudes of highly involved and complex topics could appear too perfunctory and rapid.
As the author tries to describe the current scientific conjectures of the unknowable eventuality, the reader could be pardoned to feel that the lines between the theological and scientific beliefs are getting blurred. In fact, the beginning and the end increasingly look almost identical. It is a wonder that the author still mostly skips the guesses on the biggest question "why all the fuss" after unconsciously highlighting the futility of it all throughout!
It has to be said that focussed mental effort is needed to comprehend Impey, but also that the book is perhaps a uniquely informative account for non-experts of the state and history of our universe. Anyone who is (a) smart and (b) intellectually curious should certainly attempt it.
There is surely no more accessible and authoritative account for the lay person of how the universe came to be what it is. Some people may of course prefer the simpler story in Genesis.