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