Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe (Simon Singh)


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Although Simon Singh has Ph.D. in particle physics, which is kind of close to astronomy, I find him more as an excellent researcher, and great popularizator of science. He's story telling is fascinating, and pushes readers understanding in sometimes quite complex topics, without any requirements needed, such as heavy math or the likes.

He's book Big Bang guides us from the basic beliefs of the ancient China, Icelandic myths, or West Africa, through first Greek philosophers to the proofs of Big Bang theory as the current winner of the modern science understanding of creation of the universe.

Book contents are as follows:

  1. IN THE BEGINNING (From mythology to cosmology, from prehistory to 1900)
  • From Giant Creators to Greek Philosophers
  • Circles within Circles
  • The Revolution
  • Castle of the Heavens
  • Seeing is Believing
  • The Ultimate Question
  1. THEORIES OF THE UNIVERSE (How Einstein's theory of gravity hinted at a moment of creation)
  • Einstein's Thought Experiments
  • The Gravity Battle: Newton v. Einstein
  • The Ultimate Partnership: Theory and Experiment
  • Einstein's Universe
  1. THE GREAT DEBATE (How observations of the universe implied a cosmic expansion)
  • Staring into Space
  • Now You See It, Now You Don't
  • The Titan Astronomer
  • World in Motion
  • Hubble's Law
  1. MAVERICKS OF THE COSMOS (How theory and observation came together to form the Big Bang model)
  • From the Cosmic to the Atomic
  • The First Five Minutes
  • Divine Curves of Creation
  • Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
  1. THE PARADIGM SHIFT (The battle between rival cosmological theories is finally resolved)
  • The Timescale Difficulty
  • Dimmer, Further, Older
  • Cosmic Alchemy
  • Corporate Cosmology
  • The Penzias and Wilson Discovery
  • The Necessary Sprinkling of Wrinkling
  1. EPILOGUE (What are the outstanding questions for the Big Bang model?)

In the first chapter, In the beginning, Simon Singh guides every layman interested in astronomy (cosmology in general) from one theory to the next. How ancient Greeks found that the Earth is round, distance to the Moon, and then the Sun. Then he continues on how we switched from Earth centered theory to Sun centered Solar System.

Second chapter, Theories of the Universe, gives us the brief history of how first measurements of light were done, with following overview of Einsteins theories, and the practical proofs of them.

The next chapter, The Great Debate, moves a bit back in time to famous observers, and describes how measurements through decades of improving instruments were done with increasing accuracy. Then the reader learns how the first measurements of distance to stars were made, later galaxies. Astronomical spectrography is also introduced here, which is still one of the major branches of modern astronomy. Doppler effect is also described here, as well as Hubble's Law.

Fourth chapter, Mavericks of the Cosmos, begins with describing of the Big Bang Theory. With short chemistry introduction, it also delves into atomic world, explaining how various elements are related, and their creation. As well as describing Big Bang in this chapter the writer also describes competitor theory - Steady State model.

The last chapter, The Paradigm Shift, is fascinating battle of facts and scientific discoveries between Big Bang Theory, and Steady State Model.

Author ends in the early 1990's with COBE project, but in the Epilogue he touches where the science is now, what remains to be find out, or refined. Here he mentions Theory of inflation, Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

In essence, if you're interested in Cosmology, or you want to get up to date with laws and theories often used in astronomy circles, take this book and start reading. Written as a nice scientific plot, from the easy going reading you'll not even notice how much you've learned by the time you reach the end of the book.

This is definitively a book I'd recommend as a cosmology introduction book to students or amateur astronomers interested in history of astronomy!