First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe

Overview

Seven years before Richard Preston wrote about horrifying viruses in The Hot Zone, he turned his attention to the cosmos. In First Light, he demonstrates his gift for creating an exciting and absorbing narrative around a complex scientific subject—in this case the efforts by astronomers at the Palomar Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains of California to peer to the farthest edges of space through the Hale Telescope, attempting to solve the riddle of the creation of the ...

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First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe

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Overview

Seven years before Richard Preston wrote about horrifying viruses in The Hot Zone, he turned his attention to the cosmos. In First Light, he demonstrates his gift for creating an exciting and absorbing narrative around a complex scientific subject—in this case the efforts by astronomers at the Palomar Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains of California to peer to the farthest edges of space through the Hale Telescope, attempting to solve the riddle of the creation of the universe.

Richard Preston's name became a household word with The Hot Zone, which sold nearly 800,000 copies in hardcover, was on The New York Times's bestseller list for 42 weeks, and was the subject of countless magazine and newspaper articles. Preston has become a sought-after commentator on popular science subjects.

For this hardcover reprint of what has been called "the best popular account of astronomy in action," (Kirkus Reviews) he has revised the text and written a new introduction.

A lively account of astronomers at work by the young New Yorker writer.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Profiles of Palomar Mountain's telescopes and astronomers lend a basic framework to this book about our understanding of the solar system and universe. Preston, a New Yorker contributor, portrays two sets of researchers: one group looking for the ultimate limits of the universe, the other focusing on the minor planets within our solar neighborhood. Whether profiling Caltech gadgeteers hunting quasars or Carolyn Shoemaker racing to discover more comets, Preston makes general readers understand the significant advances in astronomy and appreciate the scientist's joy of endeavor. Humor, vivid imagery, and a keen sense of language add to this book's appeal. Macmillan Book Clubs alternate.Laurie Tynan, Montgomery Cty.-Norristown P.L., Pa.
School Library Journal
YA As the title suggests, this is a book on astronomy, but it is also a great deal more than that. Nominally, First Light is about the efforts of a group of astronomers who are attempting to map the edge of the known universe. Because the sheer size of the numbers and concepts involved in astronomy have an almost universal gee-whiz fascination, that subject is interesting reading all by itself. What really makes this book something special, however, are the portraits of the people involved: how they approach their work, how they interact with each other. What is made clear in First Light is that for all their genius, for all their magnificent achievements, these astronomers are just like the rest of us: subject to the same emotions and frustrations, foibles and shortcomings. With no index or bibliography, this is not a book for students who just want to get through their next science report, nor is it intended to be. Karl Penny , Houston Public Lib .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812991857
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/29/1996
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 281,921
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Preston

Richard Preston received The Overseas Press Club of America's 1995 Whitman Bassow Award for "best reporting in any medium on environmental issues" for The Hot Zone. First Light, Preston's first book, won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. Preston lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife and children.

Biography

Richard Preston is a versatile and unique writer. He's penned nonfiction and fiction, both to popular and critical acclaim. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he's written books about the vast intricacies and limitlessness of outer space; about microscopic, infinitely complex and deadly viruses; and—well before September 11—about the all-too-real threat of biological terrorism.

Preston is best known for creating a media frenzy and subsequent shockwave of terror in 1994 with his critically acclaimed, No. 1 New York Times bestseller, The Hot Zone. In a gripping, narrative style, The Hot Zone, relates a gripping true tale: In late 1989 in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., strands of the Ebola virus were found in the carcass of recently imported monkey from Africa. The book recounts the heroic efforts of soldiers and scientists as they attempted to avert a deadly outbreak of the virus, which is highly contagious and reputedly kills 90 percent of those it infects. Stephen King called it "one of the most horrifying things I've ever read."

The Hot Zone succeeded, not solely because the story was infectiously compelling and masterfully told, but because it was chilling to the bone. People were genuinely frightened. Everyone wanted to know, "Can this actually happen?" and "Are we really prepared if it does?"

Preston's next project, The Cobra Event, still has readers asking these same questions. The amazing achievement here: It's a work of fiction. About a biological terror attack on New York City, the plausibility of such a scenario is now, in our post-9/11 world, even more believable and scary. In fact, when then-President Bill Clinton read The Cobra Event, he was horrified. The New York Times reported: "Mr. Clinton was so alarmed by The Cobra Event that he instructed intelligence experts to evaluate its credibility." Preston recalled in a magazine interview: "So I get this frantic series of calls on my answering machine; 'Newt Gingrich is trying to reach you. He's been instructed by the President to call you and get your advice.' So I think, right, sure. But I end up talking with Gingrich for quite some time about biological terrorism." Preston has since appeared before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism & Government Information and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Chemical and Biological Weapons Threats to America.

Of The Cobra Event,Newsweek wrote, "…Preston has inadvertently created a new hybrid of fact and fiction…" Inadvertent or not, Preston's almost indistinguishable blending of fact and fiction makes for a great read. Like his nonfiction, the characters are highly developed and the pacing is swift. And the fear factor: intense long after the last page is read.

Like fellow nonfiction writers Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down) and Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air) and novelist Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Timeline, etc.), Preston has perfected the art of character. Science provides the backdrop to his work, but it never gets in the way of the story. After all, he's not a scientist. "I'm a writer, pure and simple," Preston once said. "I write about people."

Good To Know

An asteroid is named after Richard Preston. Called Asteroid Preston, it is approximately 3-5 miles across, and could actually collide with Mars—or Earth!—in approximately 100,00 years.

The Hot Zone inspired the 1995 hit movie Outbreak, which attracted an all-star cast led by Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Donald Sutherland. The actual film version of Preston's book never got made; it stalled, and the competing project that became Outbreak was the one that made it to theaters.

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    1. Hometown:
      Hopewell, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 5, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A., Pomona College, 1976; Ph.D. in English, Princeton University, 1983
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

Foreword: To Readers and Teachers xi
Part 1 Big Eye 1
Part 2 The Shoemaker Comets 65
Part 3 Gadgeteers 133
Part 4 Discoveries 213
Appendix 1 Main Characters 267
Appendix 2 Glossary 269
Credits 273
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Enjoyed it a lot

    After reading The perfect Machine this book was an excellent follow up to it. If you enjoy astronomy and telescopes especially the 200" on Mount Palomar you'll like this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2000

    Learn what it is like to be standing in the shoes of the folks that always have their eyes on the skies.

    This book has a cast of quirky but larger than life characters, including the awesome two hundred-inch Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California that took fourteen years to cast and polish. The draw for this book is how these astronomers make their incredible discoveries fueled by Oreo cookies, using parts from dumpsters, and keep it held together with Palomar glue (rolls of cheap transparent duct tape). The book is broken into three interwoven areas: the gear, the folks, and the discoveries. The book is packed with facts and insights into what drives the astronomers to use the big eyes to solve the riddles of the universe. This book would be an enjoyable read for anyone who would like to learn what it is like to be standing in the shoes of the folks that always have their eyes on the skies.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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