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Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe

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According to a recent survey, the most popular question about science from the general public was: what came before the Big Bang? We all know on some level what the Big Bang is, but we don’t know how it became the accepted theory, or how we might know what came before. In Before the Big Bang, Brian Clegg (the critically acclaimed author of Upgrade Me and The God Effect) explores the history of this remarkable concept. From the earliest creation myths, through Hershel’s realization that the Milky Way was one of ...

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Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe

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Overview

According to a recent survey, the most popular question about science from the general public was: what came before the Big Bang? We all know on some level what the Big Bang is, but we don’t know how it became the accepted theory, or how we might know what came before. In Before the Big Bang, Brian Clegg (the critically acclaimed author of Upgrade Me and The God Effect) explores the history of this remarkable concept. From the earliest creation myths, through Hershel’s realization that the Milky Way was one of many galaxies, to on-going debates about Black Holes, this is an incredible look at the origins of the universe and the many theories that led to the acceptance of the Big Bang. But in classic scientist fashion Clegg challenges the notion of the “Big Bang” itself, and raises the deep philosophical question of why we might want to rethink the origin of the universe. This is popular science at its best, exploratory, controversial, and utterly engrossing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Clegg follows the footsteps of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Timothy Ferris’s Coming of Age in the Milky Way. He shares his predecessors’ enthusiasm, eloquence and ability to explain complex ideas but provides a bonus by covering startling developments of the past decade. Anyone looking for an introduction to or a refresher course in cosmology need look no further." - Kirkus, Starred Review

"Indeed, the existence of so many things, from dark matter to black holes to wormholes all has to be inferred. The Big Bang, too, is only provisional and seems to be waiting for a more graceful model to replace it. In Clegg’s words, the Big Bang theory “has the feeling of something held together with a Band-Aid. Whether what came before our universe was another universe or nothing, or something else yet unconsidered, for now the most accurate answer might be: We just don’t know." -Anthony Doerr Boston Globe, July 19

Publishers Weekly

The title of well-known science writer Clegg's newest is a bit of a teaser: as Clegg (A Brief History of Infinity) himself admits: "we may never have a definitive answer to the question, "What came before the Big Bang?" But there are lots of theories running around waving their hands to be noticed and get funding. Clegg devotes the first half of his book to the problems that face big bang theorists (when did the bang happen? How big was it? what caused it?). He then gives equal time to those who are looking to send that theory the way of phlogiston. Many alternative origin-of-the-universe theories postulate either that there have been cyclical universes-each ending in a Big Crunch, followed by another Big Bang, or that our universe really exists in a giant black hole,or that universes can bud off one another.Most astronomy and science fiction buffs will bl familiar with this material, but Clegg's relatively jargon-free style makes for a good introduction for general readers, even if it leaves them still wondering what did come before the big bang. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Excellent popular history of how humans understand the universe. Primitive cultures defined it simply as the earth and the sky. Early astronomers realized some heavenly bodies were more distant, and the ancient Greeks settled on a universe that encompassed the solar system-the sun and planets. European astronomers long suspected stars were more distant, but it was William Herschel (1738-1822) who described the Milky Way. Herschel theorized that our galaxy was one of many, but it took another century for astronomers led by Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) to prove it. British science writer Clegg (Upgrade Me: Our Amazing Journey to Human 2.0, 2008, etc.) excels in recounting the struggle over our universe's origin, which most-but not all-agree lies in a vast primeval expansion known as the Big Bang. Readers may roll their eyes as brilliant scientists propose explanations of how the Bang led to the universe we see today, only to confront new, unsettling astronomical phenomena-dark energy, dark matter-that create questions faster than they can be answered. The author emphasizes that, unlike relativity or evolution, Big Bang cosmology is not a coherent system backed by overwhelming evidence but a clumsy, ad hoc premise whose gaps are plugged with theoretical band-aids or simply left open to frustrate scientists. Clegg follows the footsteps of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Timothy Ferris's Coming of Age in the Milky Way. He shares his predecessors' enthusiasm, eloquence and ability to explain complex ideas but provides a bonus by covering startling developments of the past decade. Anyone looking for an introduction to or a refresher course in cosmology need lookno further. Agent: Peter Cox/Redhammer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312385477
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/2009
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

BRIAN CLEGG is the author of A Brief History of Infinity, The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon, and Light Years: The Extraordinary Story of Mankind’s Fascination with Light, and Upgrade Me: Our Search for Human 2.0. He holds a physics degree from Cambridge and has written regular columns, features, and reviews for numerous magazines. He lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and two children.

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Table of Contents

1 Big Bang Primer 1

2 Enter the Creator 7

3 What and How Big? 20

4 How Old? 64

5 A Bang Or a Whimper? 81

6 Keeping Things Steady 116

7 Inflating the Truth 135

8 Let There Be Time 176

9 Groundhog Universe 186

10 Living in a Bubble 226

11 Welcome to the Matrix 247

12 Snapshot Universe 264

Notes 293

Index 299

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    Simple isn't necessarily clear

    Theoretical physicist and author Brian Clegg works hard in this book to summarize current theories of the origins of our universe for the widest and most general audience possible. Clegg, who is quite skeptical and critical of the Big Bang theory,the most widely accepted current set of ideas, effectively explains the origins and rationale of that theory. Clegg also reveals and questions some of the more restrictive and limiting ways in which the academic community of theoretical physicists, and "Big Science" in general, works to close ranks around an "accepted" set of theories in ways that can close down discussion prematurely,and his book is a commendable effort to expand and keep the full scope of debate alive.

    Clegg very consciously uses the most straightforward and non-technical language possible, understandable given his intended audience, and this serves the book well in the early going. In the later chapters, however, as he ranges far and wide among increasingly far-out theories (The universe as a computer program, as a hologrammic projection), even simple explanations serve to distract and confuse. The reader, in those situations, is likely to think: It seems like I should be getting this, given the matter-of-fact tone and style; why am I lost? In fact, seemingly off-hand and brief explanations of utterly foreign notions, such as those that arise from quantum theory, are far from easily followed when applied to the nature, origins and ultimate fate of the universe itself.

    Perhaps intentionally, perhaps not, Clegg reveals the almost pseudo-scientific nature of the current state of theoretical physics in repeated phrases such as "In principle," which are generally followed by nearly outlandish and imcomprehensible imaginings. In principle it seems, almost anything about the universe as a whole could be true, as long as it doesn't risk making any predictions that be supported, or disproven, by any observed or observable evidence. What such suppositions about the universe are good for is a question left unanswered, presumably because theoretical physicists really like their jobs and want to keep them and be taken seriously.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

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