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The Day We Found the Universe

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  625 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
The riveting and mesmerizing story behind a watershed period in human history, the discovery of the startling size and true nature of our universe.

On New Years Day in 1925, a young Edwin Hubble released his finding that our Universe was far bigger, eventually measured as a thousand trillion times larger than previously believed. Hubble’s proclamation sent shock waves throu
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Published April 7th 2009 by Vintage (first published April 7th 1986)
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Clif Hostetler
Jul 13, 2016 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book provides a virtual front row seat to the discoveries of facts about the universe that were bigger, stranger, and more spectacular than anybody could have imagined at the beginning of the 20th Century. Today the newness has worn off of such terms as expanding universe, space-time continuum, and multiple galaxies. So it's good to imagine the excitement that must have been felt when these words were first uttered. If these concepts seem unfathomable now, they were even more unbelievable t ...more
Aug 27, 2009 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Of course, there is that scene in Cosmos where Carl Sagan is sitting on a beach somewhere and talking about the stars. He picks up a handful of sand and says that the number of grains of sand in his hand is about as many as the number of stars you might be able to see unaided if you looked up at a clear night sky. He then says that modern cosmology has shown that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world.

This is a book about what happened w
Paul Bryant
Aug 17, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
One day in 1925 :

Hubble : The universe is bigger than everybody thinks.

A humbler astronomer invented for the purpose of this review : Yeah? How big are we talking?

Hubble : Well, you know the Milky Way? Okay, now see through this telescope, see those little wispy things there?

Astronomling: You mean those spiral nebulae?

Hubble : Well what if I told you they weren’t spiral nebulae?

Little astronomer: Aww, you mean they’re just smudges on the lens? Damn. We wasted a lot of time on those things.

Jan 17, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fantastic, popular-science history of a pivotal era in astronomy: the moment in time when we went from a belief that the Milky Way was the Universe entire, to the knowledge that the Milky Way is but one galaxy in a Universe comprising billions of others.

Both the famous names (Hubble, Einstein, etc) and the less well-known players (Vesto Slipher, Milton Humason, Georges Lemaître, etc) are represented in this fascinating, well-written, and well-researched book.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Feb 25, 2012 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I can't even imagine what it would have felt like to have seen some of these early images of the expanding universe during this time but it must have been completely inspiring, and if any book gives you a glimpse into what this must have felt like this book is it. It contains an assortment of well known and less well known but equally important contributors to Astronomy in the early 1900's leading towards today. It really makes you look differently at the giants of this time such as Edwin Hubble ...more
Oct 22, 2015 Grumpus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Grumpus by: Trevor McCandless
Shelves: audiobook, space
Oh, to have been an astronomer in the heyday in the early 1900s. I've always wanted to be an astronomer (was never good in physics). Now I know what time I would have ideally wanted to be one. Everything was new...the telescopes, the country, the skies were free from light pollution, and the glory of discovery. Oh, to dream.
Dec 20, 2013 Gossamerblu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A dramatic and wonderfully written book about a special group of scientists that shaped our knowledge of the universe, in turbulent period at the beginning of the 20th century.
It follows their lives, their work, their battles of ideas, theories and calculations that inflated our universe from our solar system and Milky Way to the ever-expanding vastness filled with countless galaxies.
Meet the scientists that searched for their answers among the stars, people like James Keeler, Heber Curtis, Hen
Aug 30, 2016 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting history (mainly 1910-1930 ish) of how they determined that those fuzzy "small and nearby" nebulae were really far distant galaxies. I liked it because it doesn't just say "and they found it was this far away;" but she explains how the came to and how they verified their conclusions.
Mar 13, 2015 Philip rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A solid book if you're into the history of astronomy or cosmology. It investigates the people who's discoveries and work laid the foundation for Hubble's discovery and the day alluded to in the title, and the people who were substantially more daring than Hubble (Hubble was rather conservative and not much into the theoretical, very much into CYA) who had a better grasp of the implications of Hubble's work than Hubble himself did.
Henrietta Swan Leavitt's work on Cepheid variables really set th
Jun 28, 2014 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is easily the most interesting book that I've
read this year and I've read quite a few. Please
don't shy away from it due to a fear that it might
be a difficult read, it's totally accessible and
requires no prior knowledge of astronomy &c.

The action really starts just prior to 1900 and
continues on for the first three decades of that
century, a period that revolutionized our under-
standing of the Universe, its structure, extent
and our place in it.

Einstein's is a name familiar to all of us, an
Mar 08, 2015 Rusty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't think there is a word for this in english, but I'm pretty sure there is in some other language. But it's the thing where you've had some sort of impossible to articulate epiphany about something. Wait, maybe that's an epiphany. Dammit. Words are so hard.

Whatever the case may be, I recall with great clarity the moment that I realized that some little piece of trivia I'd picked up in passing was probably the entire life's work of a brilliant man or woman at one time, and quite possibly, w
Feb 03, 2014 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
the title of this book should be changed to "The entire history of star gazing PLUS the entire backstory of every person that ever had a telescope in their life AND (maybe) the day they all got together"

i did not finish this book. i made it about halfway through and it was the most boring thing ever! i was expecting a book about a single day and some in depth knowledge on that day and some stuff about astrophysics and scientists who i have heard of and who i havent.

well, this is not that. and i
Aug 31, 2016 carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The universe is expanding and so is my brain from reading this book, although not at the same rate.
Patrick Ross
The format of this book--tell a story of a significant development in history while covering multiple individuals rather than one--can be both informative and fun to read; think Isaacson's The Innovators or Ambrose's Nothing Like it In the World (about the transcontinental railroad). Bartusiak attempts here to tell the story of the astronomers who figured out that our galaxy is not alone in the universe, but that nebula are in fact other galaxies, and they are far away, multiple beyond count, an ...more
Aug 13, 2009 Joshua rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before the first world war the universe was not much bigger than the Milky Way. Every pinpoint and smudge of light that could be seen through the best telescopes of the time were believed to exist within the confines of our own galaxy. During the decade after the war, all that changed when Edwin Hubble came to Mount Wilson to peer at the night sky through the 100 inch reflector. By 1930, we new that the universe was made of innumerable galaxies speeding away from us at every increasing velocitie ...more
In the 1920s we found out that the universe is much bigger than we thought and getting bigger. The main person who generally gets the credit is the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, who worked at the Mount Wilson observatory near Pasadena, California. Hubble's contributions were important but not the whole story. Vesto Slipher, an astromer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, had noticed that the light from what were then called spiral nubulae were mostly Doppler shifted to the red end of spect ...more
Jesse Reiss
Jun 26, 2014 Jesse Reiss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific insight and careful explanation about how the universe was discovered. Wonderful anecdotes, background information and buildup to Einstein's acceptance and confirmation of it all. Hubble plays a major role but all the characters and their roles are laid out and explained. No complex math. Any layman with a high school education could read this book and leave it fully enlightened about the universe they live in.
Billie Mulcahy
Feb 20, 2011 Billie Mulcahy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Beginning in 1888, with the construction of the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in California, to the Mount Wison Observatory, with its 100 inch telescope where Hubble discovered, in 1925, that there were other galaxies, Bartusiak describes the many astronomers and the advances in telescopes that lead to Hubble's discoveries. The story begins with a wealthy man, James Lick, who wanted to build a monument to himself, and decided to build a marble pyramid that would have been larger than the py ...more
Jan 05, 2010 Brie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in learning how we discovered the size of the Universe
A very interesting book. I have to admit that when I first started to read it, I found the writing very dry, and only my interest in the subject kept me reading. I'm not sure whether the writing improved throughout the book, or if I became used to her writing style, but by the end I loved the book. I hope she writes a continuation covering the discovery of the Big Bang theory, and the astronomers involved in that discovery.

The author starts off talking about each astronomer and their discoverie
Mar 18, 2014 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you care about how we learned what we know today, then the history of science is important and you will like, probably love, this book. A complete and well-told story of a branch of astronomy featuring Lick Observatory (the first built at high elevation), the infancy of space photography, spectroscopy, and all the contributions that led to Hubble's seminal work in the 1920s. A great illustration of how the scientific method produces new understanding. it made me humble: it's easy to mock peop ...more
Joe Frank
Apr 04, 2015 Joe Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a delightful chronicling of the early days of American astronomy and the study of the "spiral nebulae". It focuses primarily on the group of astronomers at the Lick and Mount Wilson observatories in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Equally informative and entertaining, Marcia Bartusiak presents us with a book that is designed to please the eager science history enthusiast.
Mar 09, 2014 Daphne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gave this five stars even though I didn't find it engrossing in many parts. Purely for the information it provided me. It did its job as an educational historical science book.
John Mcchesney-young
Fun popular history of astronomy in the 20th century, written in a very lively style. Good enough I bought a copy for my father for Christmas!
Jan 15, 2012 JodiP rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This was a very interesting account of how scientists discovered that the Milky Way is not the only galaxy, and that the universe was much, much, larger than thought. It was like a great detective story, with many false leads, egos and missed opportunities along the way. When Hubble ocnfirmed that nebulae were actually distant galaxies, this resulted in eventual unerstanding that the universe was TRILLIONS of times bigger than estimated prior to this. This line is int he introduction and stuck w ...more
May 31, 2016 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: astronomy
Lots of history on astronomy i did not know. Colorful characters. Very interesting how all this was done before computers
Bart Billard
Feb 06, 2014 Bart Billard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this a while back lent it to a friend who also found it an excellent book. When I read it again I'll add more details.
Michael Schulz
Mar 19, 2016 Michael Schulz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: astronomy
Great book on the history of astronomy, focusing on the extragalactic nebulae. Mid 1800s to around 1930.
Jun 14, 2012 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Challenging enough to teach one something, and be worth one's time. Very clear in explication. In the early 20th century we learned that the universe is much larger than we at first thought. Edwin Hubble was the dashing, romantic figure who proved it, but Marcia Bartusiak doesn't slight the other important figures who were part of the discovery. Bartusiak's explanations are clear and straightforward, and additionally, she is a very nice lady. Don't miss her Thursday's Universe.Thursday's Univers ...more
A fantastic introduction to the history of early 20th century astronomy.
Oh my god. I started this book two and a half years ago and I finally FINALLY finished it. It was extremely interesting leading up to Hubble. In the "Adonis" chapter, where the author introduces Hubble, I completely lost interest. I disliked Hubble's persona and arrogance which put me off finishing the book for so long. I've been reading so much physics and cosmology lately though, I just couldn't leave this unread any longer. I got through my personal distaste of Hubble but focusing my attentio ...more
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Combining her skills as a journalist with an advanced degree in physics, Marcia Bartusiak (pronounced MAR-sha Bar-TOO-shack) has been covering the fields of astronomy and physics for three decades. Currently, she is a visiting professor with the Graduate Program in Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bartusiak is the author of Thursday's Universe, a layman's guide to the ...more
More about Marcia Bartusiak...

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“Hubble was lucky in a way. The Hubble Space Telescope could easily have been given another name had certain events turned out differently: if someone had not prematurely died (Keeler), if someone else had not taken a promotion (Curtis), or if another (Shapley) was not mulishly wedded to a flawed vision of the cosmos. The discovery of the modern universe is a story filled with trials, errors, serendipitous breaks, battles of wills, missed opportunities, herculean measurements, and brilliant insights. In other words, it is science writ large.” 0 likes
“Personally I am glad to see man sink into such physical nothingness, and it is wholesome for human beings to realize of what small importance they are in comparison with the universe,” 0 likes
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