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Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present

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  • Posted December 26, 2008

    Good concept, bad execution.

    This book has a worthy premise of explaining past events from the moment they literally began - with the formation of the universe after the Big Bang. Despite this rather original approach, the book quickly - the first chapter - descends into horribly skewed facts and outright errors. <BR/><BR/>These errors were so gross that I couldn't even continue reading past the first chapter. I will site some of the errors here:<BR/><BR/>1. On p. 8: "The largest stars are up to twenty times more massive than the star that is our sun."<BR/><BR/>Actually, there are many stars that are more than 20 times the mass of the sun, with the largest confirmed to be about 115 solar masses and others suspected of being about 150 solar masses. <BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>2. On p. 3: "We are traveling 2 million miles a day around the center of the Milky Way galaxy." Then on p. 11: "...traveling about 200,000 miles a day..." <BR/><BR/>The author's numbers aren't even consistent with each other. What's worse is that neither of them are correct. The actual speed is 220 km/s, or about 486,000 miles per hour.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>3. On p. 10: "Our black hole, more than six solar masses..."<BR/><BR/>While technically true, this number is far from accurate. In 2002 an article was published by the ESO, which stated that the black hole at the center of the galaxy was about 2.6 million solar masses. While more recent studies show a mass of about 4 million solar masses.<BR/><BR/>Prior to the discovery of the smallest known black hole, XTE J1650-500, earlier this year (which comes in at 3.8 solar masses), the smallest known black hole was GRO J1655-40, which was more than 6 solar masses.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>4. On p. 12: "All other planets revolve on a vertical axis except Saturn, which revolves on a horizontal axis."<BR/><BR/>Considering that Earth's axis is 23.5 degrees off vertical, and Saturn's is 26.7 degrees off vertical, I guess that means Earth also has a horizontal orbit. Or, more likely, the author was actually referring to the 98 degree axis of Uranus, not Saturn. I learned his in elementary school.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>I understand that scientific data is always changing. However, the figures contained in just the first chapter aren't even close to those used when this book was published. I simply don't see how this book could have been published. It clearly lacks any sort of quality review, specifically from someone with a science/astronomy background. <BR/><BR/>While I didn't read the entire book, I'm left wondering what other inaccuracies are contained in it. Or, perhaps, the first chapter is an anomaly and the rest of the book is accurate. However, considering the fundamental errors in the first chapter, I won't be giving it the chance to redeem itself. There are many other quality books that are more worthy of being read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2007

    First glimpse at the new field of Big History

    Rather well written and kept my attention. While Cynthia Stokes Brown is obviously not a creationist or a believe in intelligent design at least she is not preachy about it. I would by another history book by her.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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