This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.
Why does the universe exist? How will it end? What does it all mean? Greene (The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004), a leading cosmic thinker and popular science writer, attempts to tackle these questions with an eye to explaining our deep need to believe we can be part of something eternal that is focused on the central role of entropy and Darwinian evolution in the unfolding of the universe. He begins with the Big Bang and concludes with explorations of how the universe might end. He explores the development of planets and complex life, the birth of mind, language, and creativity, awareness of mortality, the rise of storytelling, religion, and our attempts to leave some kind of permanent testament to our existence. He serves broad, high level summaries of ideas from physics, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, the arts, storytelling, and anthropology. He provides enough background to follow the meat of the discussion but he doesn’t water it down for nonspecialists. There’s tremendous joy in witnessing a brilliant and curious mind wrestle with such profound issues. He takes readers on a remarkable journey.
This review was first published by Booklist on August 13, 2018.
These 32 short essays cover major events in the history of astronomy and cosmology, ranging from the demotion of Pluto to the status of dwarf planet, the evolution of galaxies, the detection of gravity waves and neutrinos, and the role of time in the Big Bang. Bartusiak’s (The Day We Found the Universe, 2009) goal is to provide historical context for many recent discoveries and a summary of how we got to where we are now in the science of space, offered in easy-to-read, bite-size morsels. Many of these essays cover events from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, the period when modern cosmology was born, but the collection isn’t arranged chronologically. Rather, the essays are grouped, small to large, by topic, starting from the solar system and working out to the larger universe. Of particular value, several essays focus on women who did significant work, but who historically haven’t gotten credit. This is an informative and rewarding read for anyone interested in our understanding of the universe. Recommended for fans of Amanda Gefter’s Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn (2014).
In the early afternoon on August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse traversed the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. In Kansas City, morning storms cleared and blue sky opened just in time to view the event, from the first sliver of moon shadow through totality. It’s the only total solar eclipse I’ve witnessed. I’m struggling to put the experience into words.
I started studying astronomy in 2nd and 3rd grade. In 3rd grade, we had to write an essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up and the title of mine was “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cosmologist.” Space was my first fascination and my first love.
I’ve seen partial solar eclipses in person. I’ve seen images of total eclipses and they’re beautiful. Astronomically speaking, eclipses aren’t that rare or complex. They happen pretty often, simple mass body physics.
So I expected the total eclipse to be spectacular, gorgeous. I expected it to be cool and interesting. I expected to be fascinated by it and by the effect it had on insects and animals. I expected to completely geek out over it.
I love Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn by Amanda Gefter more than I’ve loved any book in a long time.
I first became fascinated by cosmology in third grade (no kidding, in third grade I wrote an essay for school titled, “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cosmologist.” You can ask my mom—she still has it.) While I didn’t dedicate my life to pursuing the subject the way that Ms. Gefter has, her delight and fascination with the theories of cosmology perfectly captures my own. I know the thrill of them the same way she does.
More than any other, this book reminds me why I love this field of study.