How It Began: A Time-Traveler's Guide to the Universe

How It Began: A Time-Traveler's Guide to the Universe

4.4 5
by Chris Impey
     
 

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Telescopes are like time machines. Because it takes time for light to reach us, we see more and more distant regions of the universe as they looked in the successively greater past. Astronomer Chris Impey uses this concept of “look-back time” to take us on an intergalactic tour from current-day Earth to the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang

Overview

Telescopes are like time machines. Because it takes time for light to reach us, we see more and more distant regions of the universe as they looked in the successively greater past. Astronomer Chris Impey uses this concept of “look-back time” to take us on an intergalactic tour from current-day Earth to the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang. Pausing at landmarks such as the oldest star and the first ray of light, Impey not only provides stunning visual descriptions but also illustrates the latest theories of the origin of everything from black holes to matter itself. Along the way he introduces us to researchers tackling such mysteries as cosmic infla-tion and the possibility of parallel universes. Enlivened by vivid descriptions and lucid explanations, How It Began offers a breathtaking tour from the familiar sights of the night sky to the most remote frontiers of the enigmatic early universe.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Impey (How It Ends: From You to the Universe) takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through the “labyrinth” that is our universe, following atoms through generation after generation of stellar cores from the Big Bang onward. Impey’s time travelers are astronomers doing cosmic archeology in which the farther out in the universe one goes, the farther back in time one can see. Impey begins close to home, and closest in time, with the formation of our solar system, displaying both lyricism and wit (“the Moon splashes off the molten Earth. Venus is knocked on its ass such that it rotates opposite to all other planets”). Moving outward in the universe (and back in time toward the Big Bang), Impey discusses how to measure stellar distances and detect planets orbiting other stars. Stretching farther back, Impey explores galactic evolution, relativity, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the Big Bang. Fictional vignettes narrated by a space/time traveler (“The massive galaxy swims into view beneath my feet”) bookend each chapter to personalize the material. Impey vividly illustrates the most complex topics, like string theory and dark energy, bringing a fresh, original voice to a much-told tale, making cosmology pleasurable to all readers. 75 illus. Agent: Anna Ghosh. Scovil Galen Ghosh. (Apr.)
Booklist
“Starred Review. ...readers learn just how many astrophysical mysteries scientists have already penetrated and how many more they hope to unravel with daring new grand unified theories of the universe. But what will especially impress readers is just how entertaining Impey can make science as he regales them with his own piquant experiences as a researcher and translates arcane mathematics into metaphors (guitar strings, apple pies, Tootsie Pops) drawn from everyday life. Readers will never find more intellectual adventure packed into fewer pages.”
Kirkus Reviews
Popular cosmology writers rarely restrain their sense of wonder, but readers who tolerate the science-fiction scenarios scattered throughout this account will not regret it. Impey (Astronomy/Univ. of Arizona; How it Ends: From You to the Universe, 2010) writes that astronomers directly observe the past. Light from the nearest star, 25 trillion miles distant, takes about four years to arrive, so we see it as it was four years ago. Modern instruments detect galaxies whose light has traveled since near the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. Eschewing the usual Ptolemy-Galileo-Newton-Einstein chronology, Impey begins nearby and proceeds to the end of the universe, which means he moves backward in time. Our solar system condensed from the same cosmic dust that formed the sun and stars. That planets form part of the natural order seems likely as the number detected orbiting other stars approaches 1,000. Stars form, age, collapse and explode, filling space with heavier elements that make life possible or disappear into black holes, a process that may emit more energy than an entire galaxy. Until the 1920s, the universe consisted of a single immense system of stars: our galaxy. Then telescopes resolved innumerable hazy spots in the firmament as other galaxies; billions turned up. Subsequent disorienting discoveries revealed that galaxies are receding, carried away by an expanding universe whose matter is mostly invisible, propelled by newly discovered, inexplicable energy. These mysteries remain, despite the latest detectors which make out far-distant, immature galaxies present in a universe 1/20 its present age. An astute tour of the cosmos by a skillful teacher.
Ben Bova
“Chris Impey has achieved the near-impossible: an accurate, up-to-date account of ‘the state of the universe’ that is told in gripping human terms. A great achievement and a ‘must-read’ book.”
Diane Ackerman
“How It Began is the perfect companion to How It Ends—another star-studded tour of the cosmos, full of fascinating ports of call and revealing views of Earth, this time with imaginary voyaging which really brings the journey alive.”
Dava Sobel
“Here is a universe wrapped in a dream of spacefaring for everyone to share. Author Chris Impey combines the vision of a practicing scientist with the voice of a gifted storyteller. He has crafted some of the finest metaphors imaginable for capturing astronomy’s most grandiose concepts. How It Began glitters with a sprinkle of Moon dust.”
Sean Carroll
“The universe is a big place. It’s not easy to pack it all into a single book. Chris Impey takes on this difficult task with gusto, starting in the vicinity of the Earth and gradually moving outwards to the edge of the cosmos. This is a compelling story of science and the human faces behind it.”
From the Publisher
"What will especially impress [listeners] is just how entertaining Impey can make science as he regales them with his own piquant experiences as a researcher and translates arcane mathematics into metaphors drawn from everyday life." —Booklist Starred Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393080025
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
03/26/2012
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"What will especially impress [listeners] is just how entertaining Impey can make science as he regales them with his own piquant experiences as a researcher and translates arcane mathematics into metaphors drawn from everyday life." —-Booklist Starred Review

Meet the Author

Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor in the Astronomy Department at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has written popular pieces on astronomy and is the author of The Living Cosmos and How It Ends.

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How It Began 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
MarkJPalmer More than 1 year ago
Book Review: “How It Began” by Chris Impey, W.W. Norton & Co., 434 p., 2012. Review by Mark J. Palmer Associate Director International Marine Mammal Project Earth Island Institute Berkeley, CA Chris Impey has written nothing less than the history of the universe in his new book, “How It Began: A Time-traveler’s Guide to the Universe.” This is an excellent layman’s guide to cosmology in all its facets, told in a breezy, interesting style.  Impey not only covers what we know about the universe and its history, he also includes a history of astronomy, showing the various evolving theories about the universe through many decades of changing ideas, often brought on by changes in technology in allowing us to see more and more of the universe as well as advances in subatomic structure. Impey also discusses what we don’t know – what the nature of dark matter and dark energy is, for example, or why the universe’s expansion is continuing to accelerate when gravity should be slowing down the expansion. And Impey manages to throw in an occasional anecdote about his own personal history as an astronomer, having used telescopes all over the world for various experiments.   His writing blends all these viewpoints into a seamless narrative that evokes a nice, informal conversation with an astronomer. A number of black and white illustrations and graphs help explain the various concepts Impey covers.  He avoids most math. He also adds in a science fiction-like introduction and ending to all his chapters, imagining himself physically (or mentally?) being in the middle of various stages of the universe’s history.  These sections may help the reader view the changes from a personal perspective, but for me, this part of his text really did not work.  It seemed superfluous and disjointed. In any event, I highly recommend the book as a great discussion of what is and what is not known about our universe, and how astronomers have learned what we know so far.  They are still searching for more answers, and having read Impey’s book, I’m sure they will find the answers, if it takes until the end of time. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ereader19 More than 1 year ago
I'm almost finished reading this book - and I LOVE it! This is mind-bending, fascinating stuff! 'How It Began' addresses ideas that help the lay person understand the universe, in all of it's infinite glory, without being too technical. It's written for those of us with a limited understanding of physics yet it does not talk down to the reader. Rather, it's like learning should be ... a story told by an intelligent friend. If you like astronomy, or just want to explore how the universe, and we, came to be, you'll enjoy this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a comprehensive and challenging book about the Universe and its beginnings. You do feel like a time-traveler as you read along.Concentrate on the story line and learn!
bozoTX More than 1 year ago
Usually I love reading this kind of book but I'm having a really hard time getting into it... a little too technical for a liberal arts college graduate? Whatever... I keep going back to it but after a few minutes I find I put it down in frustration. Makes me feel like my little porsche SUV - way smarter than me.