Big Bang: The Origins of the Universe

by Simon Singh

Hardcover, 2005




New York : Fourth Estate, 2005.


"This book tells the story of the many brilliant, often eccentric scientists who fought against the establishment idea of an eternal and unchanging cosmos. From such early Greek cosmologists as Anaximander to recent satellite measurements taken deep in space, Big Bang is a narrative full of anecdotes and personal histories. Simon Singh tells the centuries-long story of mankind's attempt to understand how the universe came to be, a story which itself begins some 14 billion years ago (give or take a billion years)."--BOOK JACKET.

User reviews

LibraryThing member hotchk155
Something I love about Simon Singh's books is the way the science is always woven through with the stories of the people who made it happen, which are often just as fascinating. The narrative flows easily and scientific concepts are built up in easy to follow steps (and just in case, each chapter has a summary page so you can check you did not miss anything important). The end result is an incredibly satisfying read on many levels. Great for those of us who struggled with "A Brief History Of Time"!… (more)
LibraryThing member fpagan
Long, slow-building history of the BB theory, written for the masses but blessedly embracive of metric units.
LibraryThing member dougwood57
For this reader with a lot formal education, but very little of it in the physical sciences, Simon Singh's `Big Bang' was phenomenally interesting, engaging, intellectually stimulating, readable, and educational. Others with more background in cosmology may find it too basic. Singh takes the reader through the history of cosmology as he builds toward an explanation of the Big Bang theory. The opening chapter explains the ancient's earth-centered (and common sensical) view of the universe and its downfall at the hands of Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler and Galileo. Later chapters follow the disproof of ether, Einstein's special and general theories of relativity, and the `great debate' between the supporters of a static universe and Lemaitre and others who supported the idea of an expanding (Big Bang) universe.

A large portion of the book follows the scientific efforts to gather evidence to support one view or the other. The renowned Edwin Hubble and the less so Henrietta Leavitt played key roles in finally providing enough evidence supporting the Big Bang theory to at least make it a credible argument. The remainder of the book follows the debate between the solid state theorists led by Fred Hoyle and the Big Bang backers led first by Gamow and Alpher, but later by others who resolved some of the nagging doubts about the theory, for example, the crucial 1992 proof of tiny variations in cosmic microwave background radiation.

Each chapter (at least in the P.S. version) has handy summary notes. Singh provides a useful glossary as well as recommended further readings for each chapter.

I generally read 50-75 books a year and rate The Big Bang as one of my top five books of the year. Five measly stars don't do it justice. I will resist the temptation to rate as a supernova, but this book greatly enhanced my understanding of the world around us and was a joy to read.

Absolutely the highest recommendation.
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LibraryThing member smackfu
Well written like all of Singh's books. Covers a lot more than the Big Bang, including most of modern astronomical physics. That's a good thing.
LibraryThing member lavonardo
Well-written exposition on a potentially very hard topic to understand.

Singh's track record is 100% - every book by him has been an entertaining and informative one.

The sole minus for the book was its reliance on ancient history - giving more pages to recent discoveries and thus far unproven theories would have made it an even more enjoyable tome.… (more)
LibraryThing member awomanonabike
Simon Singh has written the most readable account of the "story" of the Big Bang. He writes of the characters, some of them rogues, the arguments, the lows and the highs, just as if it were a story. He writes with such clarity that anyone who has even the vaguest interest in wanting to know about the Big Bang but little in the way of a science education, should read this book as they will be gripped. Thank you Simon… (more)
LibraryThing member neurodrew
I have read Singh’s books on math before; he is a very good writer, and in this volume covers a historical review of the theories of the big bang and cosmology. He has a lot to say about the early years of the last century, writing about the “great debate” in 1921 between Harold Shapely and others over the issue of nebulae; were they in the milky way (the “via lactia” in Latin) or independent galaxies, and about the discoveries of Edwin Hubble on Mount Palomar with the 200 inch telescope. I will encourage Mike to read this book for background on astronomy.… (more)
LibraryThing member parthbakshi
I never expected a book on the origin of the universe to be so fluid in expressing the intent of the book ,i have previously read stephen hawkings "A brief History of time" which was filled with scientific gibberish ,but Big Bang had none of it ,maybe i might be exaggerating to some extent but Big bang is bang on target on what it really wants to depict . A good read for any one who is fascinated with idea of Universe.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheCrow2
In tis great book Singh guides you through the history of cosmology and astronomy seeking the big questions. How the univesre works and evolves? How it started (if ever...)? Well written, easy to understand for everyone... simply great.
LibraryThing member JustAGirl
Another excellently accessible and readable science book from Simon Singh. This one covers the history of the science of how the uiniverse works and is very well written. Singh's books are aimed at the intelligent layman and as such he explains everything you need to know in easy to read languge without ever patronising and also deals very well with the personalities involved. There's much more to his books than just the science.… (more)
LibraryThing member carterchristian1
A great introduction to cosmology and astronomy. It is based in strong biographies, photographs not just of the heavens and of the participants themselves. The first sentence sets the theme of just how big the cosmos is. "Our un iverse is dotted with over 100 billion galaxies and each one contains roughly 100 billion stars. "While these numbers would have been beyond understanding before the big economic meltdown and the American debt we Americans are now starting to cope with the concept of "a trillion" and can deal with these numbers now.… (more)
LibraryThing member IfIhadwordsto
Phew! Finished. All 500 pages. Any non-specialist who makes it through this "popular science book" deserves a medal and a stiff drink!

It seems to me that behind most good writers - and Singh certainly is that, with a clear and engaging style - is a good editor. Sadly, I think he was let down by his editor here, so that the balance of this book seems, to this interested lay reader at least, to be all wrong. As Singh himself admits in the 15 odd pages of "extras", he has found it difficult to decide what to put in and what to leave out. It shows.

Thus, we are treated to an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) history of many of the important discoveries in astronomy and physics, from Eratosthenes to the COBE satellite, before we are even told just what the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe is.

I would have thought it would have been much more useful to the average reader to have started with the rather neat summary of the model on pp. 472 and 473 of the 23 page epilogue, which appears to be a paraphrase of the 1992 The Independent article announcing the findings of the COBE satellite providing evidence for the existence of the denser than average regions of the universe 300,000 years after the singularity of the Big Bang necessary for the formation of the first stars and galaxies after the first billion years.

From such an admirably clear statement, it would have been possible, in succeeding chapters, to set out the supporting evidence for the model in the form of clear and simple statements of the important theories and building blocks underpinning the model (eg., the special and general theories of relativity, the confirmation of multiple galaxies, spectroscopy, Hubble's Law, the structure of the atom, cosmic microwave background radiation, nucleosynthesis, and the abovementioned variations in density).

After a while I became slightly irritated by his sections beginning, for example: "It may seem like a long time since I have mentioned astrophysics but, ...". Whilst I quite liked the potted histories of the various personalities involved, I do feel that these add to the somewhat confused, and possibly confusing, nature of this book. For example, the beginner's introduction to the special theory of relativity has, in my view, been done better elsewhere, such as in Paul Davies' "About time".

In summary, if you want to know what the Big Bang model is, read pp. 472 and 473, followed by the two-page summary notes at the end of each chapter, or buy a different book. If you already know what the model is, and have the time for a discursive and personal history of the development of the theory and of the characters behind it, then buy this.
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LibraryThing member HeyYeah
A very readable and understandable history of the Big Bang theory. I would have preferred more detail of the actual theory itself as I still have one big question regarding what 'space expanding' actually means.
LibraryThing member hailelib
Singh has written a very good piece of popular science in Big Bang. While I knew the science he introduced, I loved the way he laid it out for the general reader with clear explanations, good illustrations, and a minimum of equations. Told in chronological order from the Greek philosophers to the cosmologists of today, Big Bang is also a history of science and an explanation of how science is done. It was also a good review for me of relativity and cosmology.

To me, the really great thing was all the details about the people and how they explored their ideas that I had not run across before reading this book. Additionally there were a wealth of quotes from scientists and non-scientists to introduce and illuminate the various sections.

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LibraryThing member AriadneAranea
Really clear and well-written, this book charts the course of astronomy from Greek philosophers through general relativity and onwards to the COBE satellite - showing how the Big Bang model of the universe was developed, refined and proved by successive generations of scientists. Good introductory read, sometimes mind-bending - left me wanting more.… (more)
LibraryThing member johnny_merc
A good, non-mathematical summary of the history of the development of the Big Bang Theory and how it has become established as the pre-eminent theory in explaining the origins of the universe.

Singh keep the tone light an simple. I found his style really engaging and illuminating. Science needs more writers like him to boost its popularity with the general public.

The summary notes at the end of each chapter are a brilliant idea and give you a moment to reflect on the key milestone one final time.
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
The comedian Severn Darden, in his persona as Professor Walther von der Vogelweide, did a routine titled “The Metaphysics Lecture” or “A Short Talk on the Universe”. He starts “Now, why, you will ask me, have I chosen to speak on the Universe rather than some other topic. Well, it's very simple, heh. There isn't anything else.”

So it is with Simon Singh’s Big Bang. This is not a discussion of the details of Big Bang cosmology (although the Big Bang figures in the final chapters), but rather a history of the history of the universe, starting with miscellaneous mythologies through the Greeks to Archbishop Ussher to Einstein and eventually the Cosmic Microwave Background versus Fred Hoyle. Capsule biographies of the various participants are included, with a number of important ones I’d never heard of.

All of this is quite clearly explained; Singh is even brave enough to include graphs and equations in a book intended for a popular audience (I remember reading a claim somewhere that every graph, equation or footnote in a book cuts sales by 10%). For me, the single most impressive accomplishment of the book is the way Singh deals with usual lay questions (which, to my considerable embarrassment, often puzzled me):

What was going on before the Big Bang?

How can galaxies be moving away from us faster than the speed of light?

What’s outside the edge of the Universe that it’s expanding into?

By explaining that the Big Bang, despite the possibly unfortunate name, is not the explosion of matter into previously empty space which had been sitting around waiting for the event for some indeterminate time but the explosion of intimately linked matter and space and time. Thus “before” the Big Bang has no meaning – there was no time “before” the Big bang, time starts then; galaxies can be moving away from us faster than the speed of light because the Universe is expanding that fast (there is a limit to how fast matter can move through space, but there is no apparent limit to how fast space can expand); and there is no “edge” of the Universe because, heh, there isn’t anything else. (OK, I’ve heard that there are cosmological models where the question of what was there before the Big bang actually has some meaning. I’ll have to wait for another book.)

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Two interesting narratives here - the origins of the universe, and how people figured it out eventually. Convenient 'notes' section at the end of every chapter.
LibraryThing member Paulagraph
I'm a sucker for readable tomes explicating theoretical physics/ cosmology for the non-mathematically trained and feel compelled to pump up my puny understanding of the field every now and then. Singh kept me engaged almost all the way through The Big Bang(the book slacks off a bit toward the end)as he ran through the history of the science leading up to and encompassing the acceptance of The Big Bang theory as the most accurate description we now have of the origin and evolution of the universe. Most of the material here won't be new to anyone who has been paying attention or who has read such books as Brian Greene's Elegant Universe and/ or The Fabric of the Cosmos, but The Big Bang still provides a good review of the subject and an enjoyable read as well, with such anecdotes as the following to keep a reader amused: "One tall tale explains how an astronomer driving to his observatory tried to use the Doppler effect to outwit the police. Having been caught jumping a red light, the astronomer argued that the light had appeared green to him because he was moving towards it and consequently it was blueshifted. The police officer excused him the ticket for running a red light, and instead doubled the fine and gave him a speeding ticket. To achieve such a dramatic wavelength shift, the astronomer would have had to be driving at roughly 200,000,000 km/h."… (more)
LibraryThing member mallinje
A very thorough, detailed history of cosmology. Great introduction for those with an interest in cosmology and astrophysics.



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