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The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 6, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, April 6, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If greeting card poet Susan Polis Schultz wrote about physics and the universe, this is the book she would produce. Filled with simplistic observations ("In their hearts most people are still living in an imagined universe where... we humans have no special place and often feel insignificant") as well as romantic cheerleading ("We need to overflow with gratitude that our universe... is filled with light and possibilities"), it offers cosmology disguised as a self-help guide to the universe. The authors—Primack is a physicist at UC–Santa Cruz, and Abrams is a philosopher of science—contend that Newton's picture of the universe as shapeless and endless left humans feeling cosmically homeless, but in response they articulate a Peter Pan physics in which humans are intimately related to the universe because we are made of stardust, i.e., we're an integral part of the cosmos. Our place in the universe is extraordinary, they claim, because the universe will never be in this moment of time again, and we have a responsibility to take care of the Earth since there is still time to solve some of our cosmic problems. Attempting to weave science and spirituality into one cosmic fabric, the authors satisfy the reader in neither realm. B&w illus. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

In this thoughtful and original book, a husband-and-wife team presents a science-based cosmology aimed at allowing us to understand the universe as a whole and our place in it. "Most of us have grown up thinking that there is no basis for our feeling central or even important to the cosmos," they write. "But with the new evidence it turns out that this perspective is nothing but a prejudice. There is no geographic center to an expand-ing universe, but we are cent-ral in several unexpected ways that derive directly from physics and cosmology." Primack is professor of cosmology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an originator of the theory of cold dark matter; Abrams is a lawyer and a writer.

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594489149
  • ASIN: B000MR8TEU
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,951,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MARTIN HELLMAN on April 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When I first came to these reviews, the only one was entitled "Physics Fluff", gave the book one star, and panned it based on "I flipped through this book at a bookstore and then read the Publisher's Weekly review." Having just heard Primack and Abrams speak on the book at a Stanford Physics Department Colloquium and been very impressed, I worried that people might miss the important messages they convey because of such negative comments based on a cursory review of the materials. While I am only a few chapters into the book and would normally wait to write a review (though I did hear the authors' 90 minute talk which summarizes their work), I feel it necessary to immediately counter an impression based on an even less thorough reading.

Primack has dared to explore territory where few scientists venture. (Abrams is an attorney, writer and poet, so we scientists expect her to be a bit strange - and probably wrong.) Primack and Abrams have written a book that weaves a tale of science, myth, and ethics. Mixing soft subjects with the hard sciences goes against religious doctrine - scientific religious doctrine, that is. And, as with most religions, this dogmatic approach is usually invisible to its adherents. Even though the authors are careful to distinguish the hard science from the softer areas, this is a dangerous mixture to introduce into a scientific culture.

For example, at the Physics Department Colloquium I attended, this problem was manifested during the Q&A period following the talk. People asked only about neutrinos, cosmic expansion, how we can see objects 40 billion light years away when the Universe is only 15 billion years old, etc.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is really several books, two of which are quite good, and the third of which has major limitations. Part One of the book summarizes some traditional myths about the nature of the universe from different Western cultures. Part Two of the book is an informed, well-written summary of current scientific theories of the makeup, shape, size, and origin of the universe. Part Three tries to argue that these theories can give greater meaning to human life.

Parts One and Two are quite good. I believe most readers will gain a great deal of knowledge both about various cultures' myths about the universe, and modern scientific theories of the universe. I particularly liked the discussion in Part Two about how what is scientifically true depends upon the scale one is considering, and how this helps explain why many modern theories of physics are quite counter-intuitive: human intuition is made to deal with the human scale, and not the scales of quarks or galactic super-clusters.

Part Three is strained. Primack and Abrams want to somehow argue that modern theories of cosmology somehow give greater meaning and direction to human lives. I don't think they make a good case for this argument. They argue that modern cosmology shows that we are "central" to the universe, which is supposed to give us more of a sense of meaning. However, they use "central" in such a vague way that this isn't very convincing. We are told that we are "central" because we are made of rare elements and because we live in a rare bubble of space-time. So, being unusual is here defined as being "central".
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Format: Hardcover
This book attempts to place current advances in cosmology into a modern mythology that would restore the central importance to human beings in the scientific view of the world. Many readers will find this a little flakey, particularly where the argument is thin (Kabbala). But I found it thought provoking and very well written. Even if you are a hard core science buff you might find this worth your time because the author studied with Marcea Eliade at Chicago. Very original and very thoughtful in my opinion.There is nothing like it on the market that I know of worth reading. I think it may find a solid readership in time.

In addition, this book benefits from having been written for a humanities course given at Santa Cruz. This may be the best introduction to modern cosmology in that it takes the time to clarify fundamental points about dark energy and matter and aspects of inflation that are often bungled in better known and more sophisticated texts. It is clear that the authors have spent a lot of time answering questions from confused students. The care is appreciated; I wish more of these texts were so well edited. An excellent place to start. It comes with a strong recommendation from Paul Davies whose recent Cosmic Jackpot is also excellent.
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Format: Hardcover
I am writing this as a first impression and to counter the poor review. I have just purchased the book and have had time for a quick overview. I think the poor review is unfair to this book.

The authors central insight is how we as humans need to use metaphor to understand concepts and events that are not on our scale. He has a very good overview of what we know of cosmic and quantum theory and how they are related. It is very up-to-date on our current understanding of such things as inflationary universe and string theory. It's comparable to most other current books out there on the topic. It IS very philosophical but not religious. It uses religious metaphor so it is easy to think its some mush book trying to meld current religion with science. It makes quite clear that the religious metaphor is metaphor that we are applying to something we don't understand. It gives insight into why we use metaphor in the way we do and how to properly understand it. (we misattribute things that happen on our scale to a larger scale. Such as attributing thought, which happens on the scale of our neural connections with something larger such as weather patterns.) But also goes on to provide deeper insight as to how our metaphors are true. It shows how our wonderful and unimaginably huge the creative process is in the inflationary universe but also how we are wrong to attribute "father in the sky" attributes to it. This is not a mushy spiritual book but I think quite the opposite. Its not trying to scientifically prove god and such but just the opposite trying to showing how we are wrong to apply our scale concepts to the universe and that what is true is much bigger than we imagine.

I will update this as soon as i finish the book.

PS. I have finished the book and stand by what i stated above.
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