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You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe Paperback – February 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Any reader who has avoided science for fear of being overwhelmed will find a friendly guide in Potter, former publisher of Fourth Estate who has a masters in the history and philosophy of science. He addresses the issue head-on by turning the problem into one of scale, taking readers outward in a literary Powers of 10 journey. From meters through kilometers to light-years, Potter takes readers beyond Earth's atmosphere, across the solar system and into deep space, where galaxies gather into vast superclusters. After this headlong rush, Potter offers a quick history of physics and a look at the quarks and gluons at the heart of matter. A quantum mechanics chaser segues into an intimate examination of the Big Bang and stellar formation to the coalescence of our own solar system and, finally, the evolution of life on the speck we call Earth. Giving equal weight to each topic, Potter's steady progression illuminates the ways in which they are all connected. This clear and smoothly written look at the mind-boggling history of everything is both informative and provocative. 10 b&w illus. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New Yorker
Those for whom particle physics and string theory are impenetrable mysteries may not be entirely enlightened by Potter’s genial exegesis of the mysteries of the universe, in which quarks, squarks, and “vibrating lengths of pure energy” are elegantly expounded but remain irreducibly conceptual. Still, he gives a foothold to the floundering with evocative description—“A beard grows a few nanometres in the time taken to raise a razor to the skin”—and with liberal doses of trivia. Among other things, he notes that the moon was formed when a huge planetary collision blew the crust of the earth into the atmosphere, and that the human body contains ten times as many bacterial cells as human ones. Most compellingly, Potter examines the provisional nature of scientific inquiry, in which conjecture can lead to insight and a weakness of a hypothesis can become a strength.
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Top customer reviews
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Here are just some of the topics covered in the book:
o A history of the philosophy of science
o The origins of Relativity and Quantum Theory
o The Standard Model of Particle Physics
o String Theory
o The history of the universe from the first tiny fraction of the first second
o How stars are formed, destroyed, and re-formed
o Evolution in general
o Geological history and mass extinction
o Human evolution
Over the last few centuries, scientific understanding has often worked to remove ourselves from a privileged place in the universe and to diminish the awe and wonder we experience as we contemplate our existence. "You Are Here" succeeds in restoring awe and wonder and fittingly ends with an apt quote from Freeman Dyson: `Mind is woven into the fabric of the universe'.
We are long past the days of Leonardo and science is of course a collection of highly specialized fields, each with their own vocabulary and concepts. This book is written primarily for the reasonably well-educated lay reader who would like to learn some more about what is known about the universe we live in. It was just the book that I had been looking for - only now I feel like I have to read it again.