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The Universe at Midnight: Observations Illuminating the Cosmos Hardcover – August 28, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The battles to ascertain the values of three little "constants," whose importance far surpasses their size, form the center of this first-rate survey of cosmology's development over the last 100 years. They are the Hubble constant, or the universe's present expansion rate; the universe's matter density, or omega; and lambda, the cosmological constant, which counteracts gravity and pushes the universe apart. Croswell (Alchemy of the Heavens; Planet Quest) dishes surprisingly engrossing intergalactic dirt on the cutthroat competition among cosmologists, few of whom will be familiar to most readers. Some readers, therefore, may feel their heads start to spin like a spiral galaxy as they attempt to keep track of all the interactions between the different constants and which cosmologist is pushing which value at what point. (For the more scientifically inclined, there are 20 pages of tables, along with an excellent glossary and extensive bibliography.) Recently, scientists quite unexpectedly discovered that the universe is expanding faster and faster, generating the dreaded lambda force. In the far distant future the universe will be a gargantuan cold, dark void as recently reported in a Time cover story. Readers whose interest has been piqued by the mass media reports will find this a comprehensive and understandable explanation of our eventual doom's mechanics.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Croswell (Planet Quest) ranks with the likes of Timothy Ferris, Alan Lightman, Donald Goldsmith, Dennis Overbye, and John Gribbin among the elite of popularizers of astronomy and cosmology. The field is crowded, however, and his new work, while quite good in its own right, offers little new information. Covering the history of 20th century cosmology, with emphasis on the Big Bang theory and its implications for the ultimate fate of the universe, Midnight would be a good first read for somebody unfamiliar with the subject. Still, many of these scientific discoveries have been told literally dozens of times, and fans of this genre will learn nothing new. To his credit, Croswell does focus on the most recent research, but even there a reader would profit more from Ferris's more engaging The Whole Shebang (LJ 2/15/97). A marginal purchase. Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (August 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684859319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684859316
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,903,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Popular books about cosmology tend to become out of date very quickly, simply because this is such a fast-moving science. Every month seems to bring a fresh batch of discoveries and surprises. "The Universe at Midnight" by Ken Croswell is fully up to date, and clearly the author has carried out a tremendous amount of research.
The book covers the whole field of modern cosmology. The first chapter sets the scene with some fascinating historical anecdotes. Then come sections on the big bang and its rival theories, dark matter, stellar evolution, the expansion of the universe, its "weight," background radiation and much else. The text abounds in quotes from experts thus avoiding the danger of distortion or misinterpretation--most cosmologists, both past and present, have very definite views. Many of the quotes from key figures given here will not be found anywhere else.
Croswell makes no attempt to disguise the fact that our present knowledge is very limited, and that we are still uncertain about fundamentals such as the Hubble constant, which defines the rate at which the universe is expanding. There is a long and particularly interesting chapter about this. Neither can we be really confident about the age of the universe. The best current estimate is of the order of 15 billion years, but it is conceivable that this figure may be drastically modified in the foreseeable future.
The final chapter, which deals with the eventual fate of the Earth, is rather different in approach, and is highly speculative. Our planet cannot last forever, but when the situation becomes intolerable is there anything our descendants could do? As yet we cannot say, but breaking the Earth free from the dying Sun and transferring it to another star is likely to be a rather difficult matter.
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Format: Hardcover
The Universe at Midnight is a truly remarkable book! I was absolutely blown away by it. Ken Croswell has a talent for science writing. I had never read a book by him before, and I can say that I was so impressed with this book that I will definitely look for more of his works. He does not try to force a specific belief on any of his readers, rather he simply presents the facts of astronomy and let's the reader draw his own conclusion. Ken Croswell gives new understanding to the nature of astronomers in history. Though I understood areas such as Redshift, Omega, and Hubble's Constant before, I gained impressive new understanding to them. Never before has a science book been able to capture my interest so completely. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time! This book is a must have for any astronomer's professional library!
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Format: Hardcover
This is just the right mix of detail yet not so technical as to push the reader over the edge of excess complexity. The book is a detective mystery and spirals around various topics regarding the structure and evolution of the universe returning again and again to the same issues but from ever more recent vantage points. We gain a sense of what it must be like to be scientists pushing back the frontiers of knowledge yet not above the personal issues and passions that intrude upon the process of discovery. The writing style is clear, clever, and fun while at the same time revealing deep levels of reality. Some long standing puzzles about the expansion of the universe were explained clearer here than I have seen anywhere else. I did not want the book to end and rather wished for a magical way to keep tacking on new chapters as discoveries continue to be made. It helps to have a general knowledge of physics and astronomy although the author does take pains to offer background information in as painless a manner as possible. In fact the seamless incorporation of the basics is unusually effective.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read previous works from Dr. Croswell, and found this to be the best yet. There is enough background info on the characters, their lives, and the chronological order of the research, to keep you riveted, but not so much that the lay reader becomes scared of the subject. I think the greatest aspect of this book is that my thirteen year old daughter read it, and it has given her the impetus to explore many of these aspects of the science in greater detail. What more could you ask for?
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Format: Hardcover
Midnight. The time when most of the Earth's population is resting it's head. But if you were to take a step outside on a clear night, and turn your eyes up toward the heavens, you would be graced with a beautiful sight. A grand sweep of planets, stars, and galaxies that can hold your gaze long after your neck has begun to cramp. The seemingly unchanging night sky that has mystified, frightened, inspired, and guided people for countless generations.

But ever have we sought to understand it. And while this book doesn't attempt to answer the question of why we seek the knowledge, it does do an excellent job of showing where our seeking has taken us. From learning how the sun and other stars burn their fuel and how they continue to exist, to probing the very furthest reaches of the observable universe, Croswell gives us the facts, the controversies, the theories, and the people behind them all, giving us a well written book that is just as much of a page turner (if not more so) as a best-selling novel.

In the first chapter we are taken on a quick romp through the cosmos as we see our solar system being flung around a super giant black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy that is hidden from our view by that ever so dusty Centaur (a.k.a. Sagittarius). We see that there are other galaxies close by in our local cluster that are just part of many clusters held together in a large supercluster. Looking even further we see many more of these giant superclusters, and even further the quasars, displaying massive amounts of energy.

From there we move on into the main bulk of the book, our gradual realization of the universe, what it is, what is it's past, and short but very informative biographies of the people behind the ideas.
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