By Ethan Siegel
World Scientific Publishing Co (December 9, 2015)
Ethan Siegel’s book is an introduction to modern cosmology that delivers all the facts without the equations. Like Ethan’s collection “Starts With a Bang,” it is well-explained and accessible for the reader without any prior knowledge in physics. But this access doesn’t come without effort. This isn’t a book for the strolling pedestrian who likes being dazzled by the wonders of modern science, it’s a book for the inquirer who wants to turn around everything behind the display-window of science news.“Beyond the Galaxy” tells the history of the universe and the basics of the relevant measurement techniques. It explains the big bang theory and inflation, the formation of matter in the early universe, dark matter, dark energy, and briefly mentions the multiverse. Siegel elaborates on the cosmic microwave background and what we have learned from it, baryon acoustic oscillations, and supernovae redshift. For the most part, the book sticks closely with well-established physics and stays away from speculations, except when it comes to the possible explanations for dark matter and dark energy.
Having said what the book contains, let me spell out what it doesn’t contain. This is not a book about astrophysics. You will not find elaborate discussions about all the known astrophysical objects and their physical process. This is also not a book about particle physics. Ethan does not include dark matter direct detection experiments, and while some particle physics necessarily enters the discussion of matter formation, he sticks with the very essentials. It is also not a history book. Though Ethan does a good job giving the reader a sense of the timeline of discoveries, this is clearly not the focus of his interest.
Ethan might not be the most lyrical writer ever, but his explanations are infallibly clear and comprehensible. The book is accompanied by numerous illustrations that are mostly helpful, though some of them contain more information than is explained in the text.
In short, Ethan’s book is the missing link between cosmology textbooks and popular science articles. It will ease your transition if you are attempting one, or, if that is not your intention, it will serve to tie together the patchy knowledge that news articles often leave us with. It is the ideal starting point if you want to get serious about digging into cosmology, or if you are just dissatisfied by the vagueness of much contemporary science writing. It is, in one word, a sciency book.
[Disclaimer: Free review copy, plus I write for Ethan once per month.]