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The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,909 Ratings  ·  287 Reviews
Over the past few decades, a handful of scientists have been racing to explain a disturbing aspect of our universe: only 4 percent of it consists of the matter that makes up you, me, our books, and every star and planet. The rest is completely unknown.

Richard Panek tells the dramatic story of the quest to find this “dark” matter and an even more bizarre substance called da
Published January 10th 2011 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published December 11th 2010)
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Riku Sayuj
Aug 14, 2014 Riku Sayuj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-gen, r-r-rs
Now this is how an honest-to-goodness popular science book ought to be like. The book basically tracks the same story as A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss and even has Lawrence as a character every now and then. Because I was familiar with the story and its ending, this time around I could concentrate on the telling of the story more than the actual events themselves and I was struck by the high contrast of how Richard Panek handles the material and how Krauss had presented it in his ...more
Sep 23, 2013 Manny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to know how science really works
What a very strange book this is, and what a very strange guy Richard Panek seems to be. I know many autistic-spectrum people, and I wonder if he isn't a little autistic. One of the most characteristic things about autistic people is the unevenness in their range of abilities. They are usually extremely good at some things and staggeringly incompetent at others. Panek is definitely a bit in that direction.

Panek sets out to tell us about the most recent chapters in the exciting history of cosmolo
Jun 17, 2012 Trevor rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This was another book that ended up being sold on false advertising. Now, you might be forgiven for thinking a book called the 4% universe is going to be about, well, cosmology or something crazy like that. This was mostly about the infighting between groups of cosmologists and as such it goes to prove that a physics degree is no protection from being a wanker. The cosmology, far too often, comes second.

That a tedious obsession with ‘being first’ and ‘beating the other guy’ is as bad for science
I've been on something of a science kick lately. This is my third science-based audiobook this year, and it's only early April. I've enjoyed them all, even if I can't say that I understood everything in them. This book, though, felt like a desert triathlon compared to the other two leisurely strolls in the park. This book was exhausting. But I say that in the best way possible. I think.

First, let me just say that this book is seriously fascinating. I love astronomy and cosmology, so I'm fascina
Eric Rasmussen
I have a lot of respect for this book, but after reading it (and rereading large portions of it), I was unable to retain anything from it. First, it is primarily the story of the scientists behind the recent advances in cosmology and the search for dark matter and energy, and without the benefit of any character development, I was unable to keep anyone straight. I could not recount any of the story of discovery, the teams involved, or the people that won the awards, as there is not much establis ...more
This is a deeply frustrating book to read because Panek took no time to craft an overall meta-analysis to tie together all of the elements of his story. This is a subtle point and I will try to briefly explain what I mean below. I am all the more frustrated because the story of dark matter and dark energy, however the scientific understanding plays out in the future, is absolutely fascinating. But upon reflection, I have to issue what is perhaps the most damning verdict that can be passed on a ...more
Mar 08, 2011 David rated it liked it
Shelves: astronomy, physics
This is really an enjoyable, easy-to-read book on the recent history of cosmology. Read this book and you will understand the big questions in cosmology--there are no answers yet. I especially appreciate the descriptions of recent advances in astronomical observation techniques, and the telescopes (optical and radio) that are used. I thought that a bit too much of the book is devoted to the competition to find and measure supernovae, and the squabbles that ensued.
Ilsa Bick
This year, the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics went to three men--Saul Permutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess--for their discovery of what 96% of the universe is composed of: dark matter and the much more elusive, dark energy. Does anyone really know what these things/entities are? No, but they do make up the majority of the cosmos and dark energy appears to be responsible for the fact that our universe is neither static (as Einstein thought) nor are its boundaries beginning to collapse (as might ...more
Paul Preuss
Dec 01, 2010 Paul Preuss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hard-science
For 20 years or so after the first Star Wars movie came out, most people who mentioned "dark" and "universe" in the same breath were talking about Darth Vader and the Dark Side. Doubtless some of the movie's fans were also astronomy fans who'd heard about the evidence for real dark matter -- not what it is (nobody yet knows what it is) but what it does, flattening galaxies, speeding up their rotation, and invisibly sculpting the structure of the visible night sky. Yet the import of that particul ...more
Marjorie Thelen
This spring I read the non-fiction book by Rickard Panek with the alternative title, “Dark matter, dark energy and the race to discover the rest of reality”. Pretty big title and the mystery still is what the rest of reality is. But he did cover the race to discover it between a group of physicists and astronomers which in the process birthed the science of cosmology. Read the epilogue first. In there on page 242 Panek says, “In early 2010 . . . the results arrived bearing the latest refinements ...more
Linda Robinson
Science written by a science writer who gets the facts all right; the universe is vast and galaxies are many, but the breathlessness and wonder of the decades-long sprint are missing. Facts are dry, although when 96% of the universe is stuff we cannot see and know nothing about, facts are sparse in the sky. I expected more juice from a title that includes "race" in it. That's my issue. The book is good reportage. I was looking for the brilliant light shed by Carl Sagan's awestruck "billions and ...more
Jun 30, 2011 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is now the third or fourth book I've read on the modern history of cosmology, particle physics, etc. I keep hoping that if I read enough of them, I'll eventually catch on. Some I learned in the book (which I dearly hope are reasonably accurate, even if garbled in writing):

* Only 4% of the universe is actually observable. The rest is dark matter and dark energy.

* I had heard before that there wasn't enough observed matter in the universe to keep it from imploding (exploding?), but I hadn't r
Todd Martin
The 4-Percent Universe The 4-Percent Universe begins with the story of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 by Bell Labs employees in Holmdel, New Jersey. This isn’t what I was expecting, but often science books set the stage with a little history as a prelude to the science. The next chapter? ... More history.

Unfortunately, and contrary to all expectations (I was expecting a science book), the entirety of the book is dedicated to a description of the people who made v
aPriL does feral sometimes
A very readable history of the discovery of dark matter and dark energy, including brief biographies of the scientists involved. Particularly, it illuminates how the pressures of being a human being afflict those who are gifted intellectually and pursue astronomy and physics just as much as us more ordinary types who can't balance our checkbooks and can only recognize the Great Dipper constellation.

By the last chapter in the book, this will make sense to you: "In early 2010, the WMAP seven-year
Bookmarks Magazine
Exploring "one of the most important stories in the history of science" (Washington Post), Panek nimbly outlines recent findings in physics, astronomy, and cosmology and evaluates rival theories in clear, comprehensible language. He also dives into the bureaucratic morass and professional enmities of contemporary research, examining how these discoveries were made as well as who made them. While some critics appreciated this behind-the-scenes human drama as a tool for understanding the full stor ...more
Apr 03, 2012 Glee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A funny thing happened to me on the way to.... seriously, this book was given high marks by two friends. I tried listening to it, and abandoned the effort after 3 (out of 9) discs. A lot of the time, I could follow but then had no idea what it was that I had just heard. And sometimes I couldn't follow at all. And occaisionally (but not frequently enough), I understood it perfectly. So not a great experience.

However, (back to the "a funny thing....") over the next couple of weeks I kept hearing
Sam Webster
I don't consider the two star review a qualitative measure of "4 Percent Universe", so much as an indication that it failed to deliver what I expected. It is exceptional as a series of biographies of the scientists involved in the search for dark matter, dark energy, and supernovae; it is passable as a layman's course on modern cosmology and the techniques that are being employed; but it falls far short of being a useful study on dark matter and dark energy themselves. These concepts don't even ...more
Jan 15, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting look at modern cosmology, and the perplexing fact that scientists can only account for about 4% of the universe's matter. Another 21% or so is "dark matter", so far rather poorly understood, and fully 75% is "dark energy", that strange characteristic of the universe that is causing it to expand at an accelerating rate. Panek also describes the "cosmological constant" paradox, namely the fact that the energy density of the universe is 120 orders of magnitude lower than the ...more
Feb 08, 2011 Gendou rated it liked it
This book focuses on the history of the discovery of dark energy and dark matter.
It provides a sufficient if not dry survey of historical astronomy in the first half.
The second half goes into some of the yummy meaty details of the arguments for these two dark mysteries.
Though, the last chapter of the book digresses into a history of ugly bickering over who discovered dark energy.
Richard Panek obviously has a bone to pick, and it's a disgusting waste of the reader's time.
My advice is to just skip
Julie James
I just finished this, and I realize now that he wrote this to describe (as the title clearly indicates) the "race" more than to describe the science. I read the whole book without realizing this and feeling disappointed the whole time that he didn't get more deeply into the science! (Duh.) Now, I realize that he accomplished exactly what the title suggests... and I'll go looking for another new book on particle physics or dark energy or...
Dec 15, 2011 Terry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
We can only see (EM spectrum) about 1/25th of the mass in the known universe. That alone as the premise of a book should be mind-blowing but Panek fails to capture the magic of this fact. He perfectly captures the facts of it, the history, the personalities, the triumphs, the rivalries, but none of wonder that should be embedded in a story about discovering how little of the universe we can see.

The stories presented were fresh. I knew of Alan Guth's double boxed discovery of cosmic inflation, I
I did myself a disservice by listening to this audiobook while running. I usually choose lighter fare for that -- since I must also attend to my immediate environment (i.e., traffic!). Some days I didn't feel like concentrating too hard and would listen to Steve Earle songs instead. I am also one of those "innumerate" types, and even though there wasn't much math the numbers would cause me to zone-out and then have to re-focus. So I kept losing the narrative thread, over days and sometimes over ...more
Lis Carey
Feb 01, 2011 Lis Carey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This a highly readable history of the transformation of cosmology from metaphysics to physics, from philosophy and speculation to hard science, and in the process, the discovery of most of the universe.

Historically, astronomy and physics didn't have a great deal to do with each other. Astronomers studied the stars by observation, very patient and detailed observation and record-keeping. Theoretical physicists theorized and calculated, and experimental physicists experimented, and they fed each o
Feb 13, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."

(Tips hat to Douglas Adams.) Ok, not quite. But the universe has made a lot of people very puzzled and been widely regarding is a mind-boggling mystery. The scientific hunt to find the solution to this mystery is the focus of Richard Panek's book.

In the mid-20th century, humanity (not for the first time) thought it understood the universe. Though there we
Robert Gilbert
This book does one thing well: it provides a good example of both inspired science and Grant Theory. The first half of the book features individuals whose contribution to science begins with a personal passion and are driven onward by inspiration. The last half of the book is a wonderful look into the battles for funding, for recognition (which brings funding), and the politics of collaboration that is so often found in the scientific fields being choked by the weeds of Grant Theory. You can see ...more
Jan 04, 2012 Brie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 4% Universe - 4% science...96% stories.

That is this book in a nutshell. If you are looking for a book on the science behind Dark Matter and Dark Energy, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for the stories about the astonomers behind the discovery of both Dark Matter and Dark Energy, definitely pick up this book.

Panek gives a lively account of how the discovery of these two elusive subjects came about. I would say the first 1/3 of the book focuses on Dark Matter, with the rest heavily revo
Apr 14, 2016 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm not done yet, but my initial impression is positive.

The thing I like about this book so far is how Panek puts the various discoveries in perspective. As an example, I definitely understood the concept of supernovas, as well as the fact that they pulsate and also the concept of red/blue light refraction. However, the way that Panek succinctly describes how that constant enabled discoveries about the way galaxies revolve, well, I dare you to find another writer who could have gotten the whole
Robert Delikat
Mar 14, 2012 Robert Delikat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-tech
Sometimes I get stuck on an author and compare everything else I read in that genre to that author. Such is the case with Michio Kaku. I read Parallel Universes when it first came out and was blown away. As I wrote in my review, most of the book was way over my head but somehow I got a feel and glimmer of understanding for even those parts of the book that were. Kaku has a genius that makes the almost incomprehensible concepts in physics sometimes seem simple and obvious. The 4 Percent Universe ...more
Jan 25, 2011 Alan rated it it was amazing
First of all, I am not a physicist or a cosmologist, though I am a scientist (biologist). Even so, I found this book to be fascinating. If you are like me you have learned or at least heard something about recent changes in our understanding of the universe. For example, there was the refinement of Newton's explanation of gravity by Einstein through his theories of relativity (the description of space time), then there was the Big Bang model of the universe developed by Hubble when he applied Ei ...more
Bojan Tunguz
Cosmology, the science of the origin, evolution and the ultimate fate of the Universe, is a surprisingly young scientific discipline. For the most of history cosmological questions were dealt with through a philosophical or theological inquiry, but in the early part of the twentieth century it became possible to inquire about these things in a more systematic and scientific manner. The research in Cosmology really gained steam since the 1960s, when the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Backgroun ...more
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RICHARD PANEK is the prize-winning author of The 4% Universe and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Science Writing.
More about Richard Panek...

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“forever: 23 percent something mysterious that they call dark matter, 73 percent something even more mysterious that they call dark energy. Which leaves only 4 percent the stuff of us. As one theorist likes to say at public lectures, “We’re just a bit of pollution.” Get rid of us and of everything else we’ve ever thought of as the universe, and very little would change. “We’re completely irrelevant,” 0 likes
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