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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 20 April 2015

"Big Bang" by Simon Singh

This is a delightful and fascinating history of cosmology up to and slightly after the near-universal (pun not intended) acceptance of the Big Bang theory of the creation of the Universe. Having taught Physics for 33 years I knew most of the Science and understood the arguments but there were still aspects I had not fully appreciated. These were carefully explained and I am confident that this book would be accessible to the general reader. Singh also explained the philosophical issues and weighed up the various arguments carefully so that their merits and demerits could be easily compared. But the icing on the cake was his affectionate portrayal of the very human astronomers and cosmologists who contributed to (or fought against) our present understanding.

There were so many characters. Here are just a few:

  • Fritz Zwicky, for example, was famously rude. His favourite insult was to call you a 'spherical bastard' because,just like a sphere, he thought you were a bastard whichever way he looked at you. 
  • Lord Rosse owned an estate in Ireland and gave up astronomy to look after his tenants during the Irish Potato Famine; he built a huge telescope on his lands but was rather foiled by the fact that there are two sorts of weather in Ireland: raining and about to rain. 
  • Walter Baade, a German emigre in USA during the Second World War experienced similar frustrations when the authorities decided that, as an enemy alien, he should be confined to his house between sunset and sunrise despite working on the Mount Wilson optical telescope. 
  • George Gamow, a practical joker, who had to defect from the USSR; his first attempt involved trying to canoe across the Black Sea which he had to give up after two days. 
  • Fred Hoyle, the proponent of the Steady State Theory, who shot himself in the foot not once but twice: first when he developed the theory for nucleosynthesis which removed a significant problem for the Big Bang theory and secondly during a radio broadcast when he scornfully referred to what was then called the dynamic evolving model as a Big Bang, thus creating a catchy name to popularise the idea.


The book ends with a short epilogue in which the continuing issues facing cosmology are outlined. Why is the expansion of the Universe apparently accelerating? What is the mysterious dark energy that might explain this? Why are the six numbers that govern the Universe so perfectly aligned that humans can exist? Does this mean that we are just one bubble in a multiverse? And most of all, of course: What happened before the Big Bang?

A thought-porvoking book that takes you for a ride through the mysteries of the Universe and yet explains them so well that you understand some reallt difficult science.

April 2015; 493 pages

Other books by this author:

  • Fermat's Last Theorem: I have not yet read this
  • The Code Book: I very much enjoyed this history of cryptography
  • The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets: a fun book about Maths which I have reviewed in this blog

1 comment:

  1. Simon Singh sadly seeks to represent himself as an authority on my father, Dr. Fritz Zwicky. My father never knew him nor was he a professional associate. He is among the many authors my family encounters, who parrot partial, embellished anecdotes about one of the greatest astronomers of our time. Mediocrity often seeks to associate with genius and scientific accomplishment.

    The spherical metaphor my father was referring to was his scientific colleages spherical nescience to truth. My father's theories are now being verified as scientific fact so many years after his death. He can rest assured that as a scientific prophet and courageous trailblazer, his theories and predictions were amazingly correct. The scientific establishment that rejected them during his lifetime, has taken over 50 years to confirm them. The unbelievable incompetence and ineptitude of his colleagues and their subsequent rage, has resulted in rabid attempts using literary assault against a decedent. They remain the spherical nuisance to scientific advancement, just as my father identified and labeled them so many years ago.


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