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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Did you know that, according to one estimate, the world was created at 6:00 on Saturday evening, October 22nd, in 4004 B.C.? In this remarkably engaging narrative, science writer Martin Gorst provides a fascinating account of humanity's efforts to determine how long the universe has existed and in the process turns a daunting scientific quest into a really good read.
Gorst threads his way surely through the history of Western science, philosophy, and religion. In 1642, Bishop Ussher of Ireland calculated the age of the world by laboriously splicing together biblical accounts and known historical dates. His chronology appeared in the margin of Bibles from 1675 through to the 20th century. For the next 200 years, scientists and philosophers would have to challenge this doctrine of an extremely young universe, which was backed by all the power of the Roman Catholic Church.
In a series of short, well-focused chapters, Gorst traces the course of the freethinkers who dared to develop a larger conception of time. Descartes was paranoid and highly secretive about his theory of the universe: Some 30 years before, Giordano Bruno had been burned to death for insisting that the universe was infinite. Isaac Newton brought science into a new era, and yet he spent far more time defending biblical chronology than he did developing his great scientific works. The risks in challenging the biblical account were such that Charles Darwin endured 20 years of agony before unveiling his theory of natural selection. Bringing the narrative up to present time, Gorst explains what Albert Einstein considered to be the greatest blunder of his life and introduces the great astronomer Edwin Hubble's closest collaborator, who started out as a mule skinner hauling telescope parts up Mount Wilson. Today, having expanded the age of the universe from a few thousand years to a few billion, contemporary astronomers still compete fiercely to come up with convincing answers to important cosmological questions. Rare enough is the science writer who can make an intimidating subject accessible to a general audience. Martin Gorst has done this job with stunning lucidity. ( Rita Moran)