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Measuring Eternity: The Search for the Beginning of Time Paperback – November 12, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Is it possible to discern the instant of the universe's birth? Aristotle believed the universe to be eternal, while a 17th-century Irish bishop insisted its creation occurred at the shockingly specific moment of 6 p.m., October 23, 4004 BC. Few questions have baffled and excited mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, geologists, theologians and average Joes as much as those that seek to explore the mysteries of time. Gorst, a writer and director of science documentaries, discusses how human understanding of time shifted throughout the centuries, as models of the universe became more accurate and instruments for gathering data grew more sophisticated. He spends the majority of the book on the time follies of scientific figures from the last three centuries, from Bishop Ussher (whose inaccurate October theory wasn't entirely debunked until the 20th century) to Newton, Buffon, Darwin and Lyell all of whom failed the time test. There's enough background in each of these profiles to keep readers engaged, and when Gorst reaches present-day science, there's a good payoff. The last three years have been particularly productive ones for astrophysicists, and it's now possible to offer an age for the universe based on real observational data (especially the Hubble constant in other words, the rate at which the universe is expanding). This brief and lively volume is a great middle-of-the-pool place to dive into the nature of time; its accessibility ensures that most readers will want to keep swimming.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
More than 350 years ago, Bishop James Ussher used impeccable scholarship to present a staggering claim: he placed the creation of the Earth at 4004 B.C.E. Though wildly inaccurate, this date was still being published in Bibles into the 20th century. A writer and director of science programs for the Discovery Channel and Channel 4 in London, Gorst documents the turbulent times of Ussher and his predecessors, as natural philosophy began its quiet separation from Church doctrine. Gorst proceeds through the centuries, describing the drama behind many of the most famous names in science Newton, Darwin, Kelvin, Einstein, Hubble as they strive to contribute their discoveries to the most fundamental questions of their times. Gorst himself adds to the "historical science with a plot" genre with solid research and a thoroughly enjoyable story. Enthusiasts of Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World, LJ 6/15/01) will particularly enjoy Gorst's excellent first book. Recommended for public libraries. Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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By the beginning of the twentieth century, experiments with radioactive dating estimated the earth's age at a few billion years, but at that point the astronomers began to take over and the last quarter of the book examines their exploits in determining the age of the universe. As the telescopes got bigger and more sensitive, a race developed to accurately determine how far away other galaxies are and how fast they are travelling; by extrapolating from this data back to the Big Bang, the age of the known universe could be determined (13.3 billion years by the latest estimate). Gorst was able to interview some of the astronomers involved, and again leavens the narrative with some interesting background about the main players and the climate of scientific competition.
"Measuring Eternity" is a solid read, very accessible and wide-ranging in scope as it touches on religion, history, geology and astrophysics in its overview of the search for the age of the world.
Gorst has written an absolutely magical book here - worth reading whether even if only looking to kill a few hours - because it is so well written, so easy to read and so interesting! Its been a long time since I read such a great work of non-fiction and would recommend this book to anyone with the slightest hint of curiosity or interest in history!
At first glance his thinking appears terribly flawed, however the reality of dating the creation of our universe from the, "Big Bang", was only agreed upon after the Hubble Telescope was in orbit for several years, and even the present date comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent. In practice this amounts to just under 1.4 billion years. It also took until the end of the 20th Century to prove the Universe is expanding, and to agree on the rate of expansion, sort of. For even those who adhere to the present numbers know that few theories never change, and the rate at which the Universe is expanding is still being refined.
The centuries that encompassed the search for the origin in time of the space that our planet calls home, was pursued without pause and by familiar and brilliant minds. Throughout the process the Church was always watching carefully for no one knew whether Faith and Science would somehow be reconciled, or whether Science would somehow shatter beliefs held for millennia. Failing to place scientific thought, if not in step with The Church, then at least not in obvious opposition was both critical and potentially fatal to those who espoused such perceived heresy. When the theory of all matter originating from a void at a single moment in time was put forth, The Vatican was so relieved that Pope Pius The XII literally spoke and wrote embracing the theory. Scientists rushed to suggest that their theory was just that and the Pontiff would do well to not continue to celebrate what was not fact. He did not speak publicly on the subject again.
"Time", is a man-made construct that is relevant only to us. Even to our species, Albert Einstein demonstrated that time was relative, depending on a person's point of view, their position relative to a specific event. "Measuring Eternity" by Mr. Martin Gorst documents the history and the men and woman who sought to measure an area that was both real and had an age, and to use our definition of time to arrive at an answer. The story is incredible, and the book relates the history in both an exciting manner, and one that the non-scientist can enjoy.
Mr. Gorst relates the tale of the Irish Bishop already mentioned, up to those who work with The Hubble Telescope today. Many of the earlier methods will seem primitive until they are placed in context. Measuring the saline content of oceans, the changes in elevation after an earthquake, the depth of lava flows, and when known comets repeatedly visited the Earth are just a few of the methodologies that were used. A famous French Scientist would heat metal and equate the time it took for the specimen to cool, to the touch of a hand, and compare that with when the Earth could have sustained life. His answers were not correct, however his progress toward the correct answer was exponentially closer than previously thought.
And so history progressed, with seashells found thousands of feet above sea level, and fossils found deep within the Earth. How did they get there, how long did it take? When the methods turned to the stars, again the basic question of how to measure was the primary hurdle. The events that lead to finding reliable reference points, and enough of them literally did not come together until The Hubble Telescope was able to supply all the measurements, and the journey is amazing.
All the reader need bring to this book is an inquisitive mind. There are plenty of ideas that can only be understood by a select group, however the author does manage to relate the story for most everyone. The book does require that the reader try and imagine "everything from a void", to get comfortable with the idea that what is observed not only happened long ago, but that if you were able to instantly travel to the event, it would have ended and vanished billions of years ago.
And the amazing convergence of science and ancient faith is remarkable. Scientists routinely speak of the two systems working together, being dependent upon one another, almost symbiotic. For some it may read as metaphor, for others it will read literally. Whichever the case, the trip through time about measuring just how long time has been ticking, is extraordinary.