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The Inflationary Universe Paperback – March 18, 1998
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Just about everyone in the scientific community accepts the theory that our universe began in a "big bang"--but that theory leaves numerous unanswered questions about why the cosmos formed in just the manner we observe today. In The Inflationary Universe, physicist Alan Guth recounts his and others' struggle to expound a theory that could plug the gaps. The outcome is a theory of "inflation" that postulates that the universe underwent an incomprehensibly large expansion in the first fraction of a microsecond of its existence. With the perspective that only a first-person account could provide, The Inflationary Universe sheds light on a leading theory in humankind's continuing quest to understand the universe we live in. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
In late 1979, Guth developed concept of the "inflationary universe," proposing that, very soon after the Big Bang, the tightly packed mass that constituted the universe underwent an exceptionally rapid expansion for a limited amount of time before settling down to a more sedate growth pace. This resolved some major problems in the standard cosmological model. Here Guth relates the history of 20th-century cosmology before, during, and after his biggest contribution. Though he writes well and manages to skip most equations, this work will still be a stern test for general readers; some reading knowledge of related works for lay readers is almost a prerequisite for full understanding of the sophisticated scientific concepts expounded herein. Recommended chiefly for academic and the largest public libraries.?Jack W. Weigel, Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Dr. Alan Guth has written a clear, logically-connected history of cosmology and its biggest unsolved mysteries prior to his development of the inflationary universe theory, including the human side of this grand detective story, and the missteps along the way.
Despite being nearly 15 years old, it is not particularly dated; a little web-searching on the WMAP and PLANCK experiments should bring a reader up to date on the experimental observations since that have solidified and/or modified features of the theory.
Another excellent (and more recent) book on a very similar topic would be Dr. Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, which is also a gem of modern science popularization, bringing key results of theory and experiment to a wide lay audience.
For one thing, the author, one of the co-founders of the inflationary theory of cosmology, provides the reader with a glimpse into the world and life of a physicist. The urgency to produce noticeable work, the concern over obtaining a tenured position in an institution that supports a physics program not only by course work but by time to work on projects and the equipment necessary to do so, the desire to collaborate with the "best", and the demands made on the family of the individual researcher are all described in intimate detail. One comes away with a strong sense of the physicist as human being.
The individual personalities of the high profile physicists and of those just beginning to work on their programs is also provided, giving a very human picture of the "rocket scientists" of whom the rest of us often make fun but of whom we are also in awe. It makes the progress in science more obviously a triumph of human endeavor. The insecurities and concerns of the author as he prepares to unveil his ideas before a daunting audience of famous people, have the reader on the edge of his/her seat. In places the discussion reads like a cliff hanger novel.
The most important aspect of the book is the clear presentation of a theory in evolution. It was surprising to see just how much creative, almost artistic, thought is involved in the process of theoretical physics. It was also interesting to see the degree to which even potential competitors collaborated on difficult problems. Even those from vastly different cultures and political environments contributed in an effort to "make it work."
Against this backdrop story of human beings looking for answers to big questions, the discussion of the theory of early universe inflation is put forth for the reader. The author describes its simple inception as an intriguing question recommended by a peer as a potential project for collaboration, the gradual accretion of ideas from various sources, and the flowering of the initial concept into a full blown theory able to explain observable facts, provide direction for research, and predict likely future discoveries.
Guth is careful to explain clearly the details needed for the amateur to understand his theory and its evolution. He discusses relativity and quantum physics, particle physics, the "big bang" cosmology, fields and their interaction, the quantum character of what most of us think of as "empty" space, and so on. He also provides a history of physics and its personalities that provides the reader with a background in what has been learned and who made the contributions.
All explanations are clear and concise, and the author provides additional information for the curious in detailed foot notes and even more detailed in appendices so as not to distract from his central theme. Although I found the going slow in places, I came away with a distinct feeling that I knew what he was talking about, and a sense of awe over the magnificence of the entire theory.
The description leaves one feeling as though one was actually there at the beginning of the beginning.
There have been some major developments since this book was published. In 1998, it was discovered that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, not slowing down. Some additional constraints have been placed on the "grand unified theories" that led Guth to his ideas about inflation. In 2012, a Higgs particle was discovered. In 2014, a certain pattern of polarization--thought to be a signature of inflation--was observed in the cosmic background radiation. It would be nice to see a new edition of this book in which Guth discusses these developments.
In particular, the history of one particular theory: Guth's "Inflation Theory".
The initial impetus, the frustration, the dead ends, the false starts, the competition, the final triumph and the urge to publish first ... it's all here in great detail.
Guth has been able to provide the story of his quest with anecdotes, humour and elaborate diagrams which replace mathematical equations.
I spent two days reading; I couldn't put it down.
Did I understand everything? No, of course not :^)