This book isn’t about the Big Bang itself as much as it is about the history of the Big Bang, if that makes any sense. In other words, it’s about the tiny leaps of science that collectively came together to give birth to the idea of the Big Bang, and it’s about the people who came up with the idea. Sure, if you don’t know what the Big Bang is, the book might be illuminating, but there’s nothing in the book that is new and groundbreaking.
It’s hard to remember sometimes that the Big Bang is a fairly recent scientific theory. It seems so inevitable to me that it’s a surprise to remember that until the second half of the twentieth century, the Big Bang wasn’t really a concept, except in the minds of a handful of people. This book was pretty interesting, because it talked about the history of cosmology, physics, and chemistry as it related to the conception of the Big Bang theory, and it was neatto learn about all of the people and places and inventions that coalesced, slowly, into a pretty good theory about the formation of the universe.
That said, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. Once of my big problems with pop science in general is that authors tend to treat readers like they are stupid. And I don’t really like being treated like I’m stupid. Singh kept repeating things in grossly simplified ways, and I felt like he was patting me on the head and saying “do you get it now?” I’m ok with using metaphors that people will understand, like pancakes and railways carriages, but I don’t need to have something explained to me three times in a patronizing way.
Looking at the book purely as a historical document, I’d say it’s worth reading, because the history of science is almost as interesting as the science itself, in my opinion, especially when great minds are involved. A lot of the steps along the way to the Big Bang theory required radical re-shaping of the way people thought, and the ability to make logical conclusions without a basis in logic, so it was interesting to look at the thought processes and experimental gambles that people have taken in the past. If you do decide to read it, prepare to be tormented with plum puddings, balloons, pancakes, and railways carriages standing in for more complex concepts, and get ready to be patronized. (Although if you’re, say…8, you might find the book a great educational tool, since it lays out complex concepts repeatedly in very simplified language, pretty much ensuring that you’ll get it.)
The Big Bang, by Simon Sing. Published 2004, 532 pages. Cosmology.