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Full title Cosmos [permalink]
Language English
Author Carl Sagan (author)
Publisher Ballantine Books
Categories Astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics and science
Publication year 1985
Original publication year 1980
ISBN 978-0-345-33135-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 324
Synopsis

Cosmos is, as its title suggests, a book about the Cosmos. It's based upon (and can be considered a companion to) the TV series of the same name. There are thirteen chapters, each corresponding to the thirteen episodes.

The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is setting the tone for the rest of the book. Sagan discusses the Cosmos on its largest scales, putting the Earth in perspective. He then discusses early attempts to measure the size of the Earth.

One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue is about evolution and our own species. It discusses various potential biologies that could be evolved on other worlds and muses on the implication of all this.

In the chapter Harmony of the Worlds, Sagan really shines. This chapter deals with astrology, astronomy, and the histories of both. (Sagan was an astronomer.) He explains Kepler's Laws, goes into the geocentric vs heliocentric models of the Solar System, and the history of planetary observation and theory-making.

Heaven and Hell is all about comets and asteroids. Sagan discusses the Tunguska event and the impact craters on the Moon, among other things.

Blues for a Red Planet is about Mars in fiction and fact. He goes into the canali of Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell, H. G. Well's The War of the Worlds, and the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He then discusses the Mars probes and the potential for terraforming Mars.

Travelers' Tales is about the sailing ships and the discoveries made during the Age of Exploration, with respects to astronomy and the study of the Cosmos.

The Backbone of Night is a discussion of myths from around the world on the creation and system of the Universe, veering into a discussion of the scientific explanations (and the evidence). There's a very charming three pages of imagined inner monolog by a curious and primitive ancestor dealing with his explanation for the stars. The chapter title is a reference to the name for the Milky Way that the !Kung people of the Kalahari desert use for it.

Travels in Space and Time is about the immensity of space and time. It begins with a discussion on constellations and astrology, and has a wonderful illustration of how a constellation (in the example, The Big Dipper) would look from other angles and in other eras. It then launches into an extended explanation of the speed of light and the various paradoxes attending it (such as time dilation).

The Lives of the Stars is about atoms, chemistry, and the lives of the stars (ahem), meaning the fates and types of stars (white dwarfs, neutron stars, supernovas, etc.).

The Edge of Forever lives up to its title. Its subject matter is the beginning of time, the extent of the Cosmos, and a very entertaining discussion on higher dimensions (reminiscent of, even directly referent to, Flatland). It also discusses mythological theories on the nature of time and the Cosmos.

The Persistence of Memory is about information, in the form of DNA and brains.

Encyclopaedia Galactica is really about galactic citizenship. It goes into UFOs, SETI, the Drake equation, and contact with other intelligent beings (what it would look like and what the implications would be). This is one of the more interesting chapters.

The book ends on a somewhat morose note with Who Speaks for Earth? The chapter deals with the planet and its various challenges, most conspicuously nuclear weapons and what to do about the potentiality of our destroying ourselves. After so many chapters of uplifting speculations and explorations of immensity, this chapter is a very sobering read.

Review

Where to start? When I watched the TV series in 2007 I was utterly blown away, and the book is even better. Being a book it's also much more detailed. If you've read anything by Sagan you know what to expect, but this work is simply breath-taking in its breadth and depth. It's personal, uplifting, educational, interesting... If you want to get a (biased, in a good sense) overview of the history of ideas and science, go read it.

Images Back of Cosmos.Spine of Cosmos.Front of Cosmos.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • I The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean
  • II One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue
  • III The Harmony of the Worlds
  • IV Heaven and Hell
  • V Blues for a Red Planet
  • VI Travelers' Tales
  • VII The Backbone of Night
  • VIII Travels in Space and Time
  • IX The Lives of the Stars
  • X The Edge of Forever
  • XI The Persistence of Memory
  • XII Encyclopaedia Galactica
  • XIII Who Speaks for Earth?
  • Appendix 1: Reductio ad Absurdum and the Square Root of Two
  • Appendix 2: The Five Pythagorean Solids
  • Further Reading
  • Index
Full title The Fifth Essence: The Search for Dark Matter in the Universe [permalink]
Language English
Author Lawrence Krauss (author)
Publisher Hutchinson
Categories Astronomy, physics and science
Publication year 1989
ISBN 0-09-174211-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 342
Synopsis

This book is in large part about particle physics, with the main theme being an exploration of dark matter and its implications. There are very few equations, and those are fairly simple to follow. However, there's a lot of physics jargon, making it a little hard to follow at times for the non-physicist.

Review

As a layman I found this book very interesting, although I feel someone with a deeper knowledge of physics (in particular particle physics) would enjoy it even more. Nonetheless, Krauss makes a valiant effort at explaining a very difficult subject. I especially enjoyed the long section about how we've modeled (and simulated) the formation of large-scale structure. It's really amazing how well gravity can explain large structures. If you're at all interested in dark matter, I heartily recommend this book, even though it's a little dated by now (for instance, it talks about the Superconducting Super Collider).

Images Back flap of The Fifth Essence.Back of The Fifth Essence.Spine of The Fifth Essence.Front of The Fifth Essence.Front flap of The Fifth Essence.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface: A New Copernican Revolution?

Part I

The Stuff of Matter
  • Chapter 1: Making Something Out of Nothing
  • Chapter 2: Filling the Void

Part II

Weighing the Universe... and Coming up Short
  • Chapter 3: First Light on the Darkness
  • Chapter 4: Beyond Our Island in the Night

Part III

Why the Universe is Flat: The Big Bang, Large-Scale Structure, and the Need for Something New
  • Chapter 5: Cooking with Gas
  • Chapter 6: The Tip of the Iceberg

Part IV

The Neutrino Saga and the Birth of Cold Dark Matter
  • Chapter 7: The Obvious Choice?
  • Chapter 8: Cold Gets Hot

Part V

The Candidates
  • Chapter 9: All Roads Lead to Dark Matter
  • Chapter 10: Three Modest Proposals

Part VI

Desperately Seeking Dark Matter
  • Chapter 11: The Music of the Spheres?
  • Chapter 12: Of Thermometers and Radios
  • Epilogue: The Best of Times?
  • Appendix A: Orders of Magnitude and Scale of the Universe
  • Appendix B: A Really Brief History of Time
  • Notes
  • Index
Full title The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? [permalink]
Language English
Authors Leon Lederman (author) and Dick Teresi (co-author)
Publisher Mariner Books
Categories Physics and science
Publication year 2006
Original publication year 1993
ISBN 978-0-618-71168-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 434
Synopsis

Details the history of physics from Thales in antiquity up to the present.

Review

The title of the book refers to the Higgs boson, a particle now (at the time of writing, September 2009) being sought by the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) particle accelerator in Geneva. The book does a good job of explaining particle physics, and it's funny, too. The book is a little out-dated in that it refers to the now-cancelled SSC (Superconducting Super Collider) accelerator. There are some very entertaining passages in the book where Leon talks physics with an imaginary Democritus (Democritus of Abdera was the first Greek to suggest that the world was made of atoms), which I immensely enjoyed.

I heartily recommend this book if you want to learn a little bit of particle physics.

Images Back of The God Particle.Spine of The God Particle.Front of The God Particle.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • Dramatis Personae
  • 1 The Invisible Soccer Ball
  • 2 The First Particle Physicist
  • Interlude A: A Tale of Two Cities
  • 3 Looking for the Atom: The Mechanics
  • 4 Still Looking for the Atom: Chemists and Electricians
  • 5 The Naked Atom
  • Interlude B: The Dancing Moo-Shu Masters
  • 6 Accelerators: They Smash Atoms, Don't They?
  • Interlude C: How We Violated Parity in a Weekend ... and Discovered God
  • 7 A-tom!
  • 8 The God Particle at Last
  • 9 Inner Space, Outer Space, and the Time Before Time
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on History and Sources
  • Index
Full title The Grand Design [permalink]
Language English
Authors Leonard Mlodinow (author) and Stephen Hawking (author)
Publisher Bantam Books
Categories Astronomy, physics and science
Publication year 2010
ISBN 978-0-593-05829-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 200
Synopsis

The Grand Design is a book about how the universe can come from nothing. It explores and explains M-theory and speculates about the elusive Theory of Everything.

"One can't prove that God doesn't exist, but science makes God unnecessary."

Images Back flap of The Grand Design.Back of The Grand Design.Spine of The Grand Design.Front of The Grand Design.Front flap of The Grand Design.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  1. The Mystery of Being
  2. The Rule of Law
  3. What Is Reality?
  4. Alternative Histories
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. Choosing Our Universe
  7. The Apparent Miracle
  8. The Grand Design
  • Glossary
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index
Full title QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter [permalink]
Language English
Authors Richard Feynman (author), Leonard Mautner (foreword) and Ralph Leighton (preface)
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Physics and science
Publication year 1990
Original publication year 1985
ISBN 978-0-140-12505-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 158
Images Back of QED.Spine of QED.Front of QED.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Foreword by Leonard Mautner
  • Preface by Ralph Leighton
  • Acknowledgment
  1. Introduction
  2. Photons: Particles of Light
  3. Electrons and Their Interactions
  4. Loose Ends
  • Index
Full title The Relativity of Wrong: Essays on the Solar System and Beyond [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Anthology, astronomy, physics and science
Publication year 1988
Pages 225
Synopsis

Explains atoms and isotopes, planets and satellites, novas and supernovas. It also contains a title essay, which is available online. In it, he explains that there is a continuum from right to wrong, and that it's possible to be righter and wronger. For instance, if you think the Earth is flat you are wronger than if you think the Earth is a sphere. You're still wrong, because the Earth is more like an oblate spheroid, but even that is wrong. And so on.

Images Back of The Relativity of Wrong.Spine of The Relativity of Wrong.Front of The Relativity of Wrong.
Full title View From a Height [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Avon Books
Categories Anthology, biology, chemistry, physics and science
Publication year 1975
Original publication year 1963
ISBN 0-380-00356-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 224
Synopsis

This is an essay collection broken into four parts: Biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. As the subtitle says, it's a brilliant overview of the exciting realms of science. The title invokes the image of viewing science from above, to get an overview of it, and in the introduction Asimov likens science before 1800 to a well-managed orchard. After 1800, it's overgrown and even though there's still an underlying order to it, each wanderer through the orchard only gets to see a small part of it.

"So I have here a collection of essays with little internal unity. They are glimpses, here and there, of the orchard of science, as viewed from a height."

Images Back of View From a Height.Spine of View From a Height.Front of View From a Height.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • INTRODUCTION
  • PART I BIOLOGY
    • 1 That's About the Size of It
    • 2 The Egg and Wee
    • 3 That's Life!
    • 4 Not as We Know It
  • PART II CHEMISTRY
    • 5 The Element of Perfection
    • 6 The Weighting Game
    • 7 The Evens Have It
  • PART III PHYSICS
    • 8 Now Hear This!
    • 9 The Ultimate Split of the Second
    • 10 Order! Order!
    • 11 The Modern Demonology
    • 12 The Height of Up
  • PART IV ASTRONOMY
    • 13 Hot Stuff
    • 14 Recipe for a Planet
    • 15 The Trojan Hearse
    • 16 By Jove!
    • 17 Superficially Speaking

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