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The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report Paperback – July 6, 1998
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From the prizewinning author who has been called "the greatest science writer in the world" comes this delightfully comprehensive and comprehensible report on how science today envisions the universe as a whole.
Timothy Ferris provides a clear, elegantly written overview of current research and a forecast of where cosmological theory is likely to go in the twenty-first century. He explores the questions that have occurred to even casual readers -- who are curious about nature on the largest scales: What does it mean to say that the universe is "expanding," or that space is "curved"? -- and sheds light on the possibility that our universe is only one among many universes, each with its own physical laws and prospects for the emergence of life.
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T. Ferris, the author, is entertaining and amusing. Before this book I read his "Coming of age in the Milky Way" (Kindle Edition) and that's why I bought this one. Now, although this book is about the universe like the other one, this has a different scope. Here you have the whole universe being explored in terms of shape, chemistry, origin and evolution (among others). But just like in the former book the author gives himself the time to talk about some heroes of the scientific adventure, something in which he is very provocative and insightful.
Ferris is not only an excellent science reporter, he is also a very good writer, that's why you feel you cannot abandon the reading and must go on til the end. And this is not a jingle is a fact! To me is not easy to read in English so this can tell you something about the truth of what I'm saying. From time to time I had to pick up the dictionary and get the meaning of a word or sentence in Spanish. Anyway, it was worth the effort.
There is one more thing: the book was publish in 1997 but despite that fact (I mean out of date) it doesn't lose its purpose and elegance. Its pace contributes to past readings and make sense with more recent ones: it fits. As an example I would say that relativity and quantum mechanics, not being the central topics, are very well explained. Ferris has the gift to construct good analogies to let you know what he is really meaning. So you don't need to interpret what he is saying you just have to taste it.
Finally, a topic that is always present in this kind of books is God. Does he (or He) exists or not? Can science give us a hint? My answer is that Ferris is very serious about the topic so he never misses the point: "The state-of-the universe." So what he does is to add a final little chapter ("Contrarian Theological Afterword") where he lets you know the elements you have to consider if you want to make a decision or reinforce that that you had. Thus he is not only clever at writing but he is also consistent.
Very good reading. Highly recommended.
Covered also are the concepts of the speed of light and "seeing" the past of the universe, the expansion of the universe and the question of its fate, the first few moments of the universe and the creation of matter, the possibility of other universes, the possibility of other dimensions beyond the four we experience, the evolution of the large scale structures of the universe, the anthropic cosmological principle, and for those with a special interest in the topic of religion and philosophy vis a vie physics and cosmology, a discussion of God and the universe. Although there are several books which give a more in depth account of each of these topics, this one is an excellent compendium, which is probably why it was chosen as the text for the class.
The bibliographic notes to the text are all a little old, being mostly primary sources. This is good from the historical perspective, as it makes the reader aware of the underlying research in support of the author's text, who did it, what it was, and when it was done. However, it doesn't give the reader many of the more current titles with which to follow up his/her own interests.
All in all a good starting point.
Out dated or not I personally consider this book is worth every minute it takes to read it, and I'm a slow reader. (June, 2010)