Manny's Reviews > L'univers expliqué à mes petits-enfants

L'univers expliqué à mes petits-enfants by Hubert Reeves
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's review
Jul 25, 12

bookshelves: children, french, science, multiverse
Recommended for: Teens who want to know more about science
Read on April 13, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, we were walking past the children's bookstore just off the route de Carouge when my eye was caught by Le petit livre du caca . I had to go in and buy it; the assistant tried to persuade me that I also wanted Le petit livre de l'amour, and while I waited for her to go and get a copy I picked up this charming little volume and started leafing through it. I eventually walked out with both the book I'd originally come in for and the one I picked up by accident. The shit and the stars: whether by accident or design, a remarkably balanced selection.

Hubert Reeves turns out to be a distinguished Québécois astrophysicist, who, if I am reconstructing the chronology right, spent several evenings during the summer and autumn of 2009 sitting out on the lawn with his 13 year old granddaughter, looking at the stars and talking about science. He comes across as a good scientist and a terrific grandpa. I don't get as clear an impression of the girl, but she asks smart questions. After a while, word seems to have got round, and she often begins a chapter by saying that this is something one of her friends wanted to know.

Some of the topics he covers are the following: what stars and planets are; what scientific method is, and why it's a sensible way to answer questions about the world; why science is useful, but not in any way infallible; how we know the universe is expanding; how people came to believe that the universe started with the Big Bang; how old the universe is; what dark matter and dark energy are; how the universe will end; what evidence there is that there are many universes; how life began; whether there is life elsewhere in the universe; and what we should be worrying about right now on Earth.

Reeves answers the questions honestly and well, and I'm touched that he went to the trouble of writing it all up. When there is an answer that's generally agreed on by the scientific community, he gives a clear and succinct summary; when there isn't, he is not ashamed to admit that he doesn't know. Sometimes he speculates a little, but he always gives a warning when he's speculating. He provides just the right amount of detail to satisfy a smart but not excessively geeky young teen.

Every now and then you get a nice anecdote. My favorite was the one about George Gamow, one of the author's professors when he was a young man. Gamow was asked if there was any possibility that protons and neutrons might not be truly elementary particles. "I am quite sure they aren't!" said the always-outspoken Gamow. "I would bet half my fortune on it!" Gamow was known to be very rich, so Reeves and his fellow students were convinced. But, a few years later, evidence began accumulating for the new quark theory, and pretty soon it turned out that Gamow had been wrong. Remember grandpa's words: maintain a skeptical attitude, and don't believe everything that famous scientists tell you.

The book is a delight to read, and if there isn't already an English-language edition I hope there soon will be. Should you happen to be the grandparent of a French-speaking teen, you may just have found the right birthday present.

The English translation is now out - I saw it the other day in a local bookshop, though I unfortunately didn't have time to take a look at it. Given that the author is Canadian and presumably bilingual, I'm guessing though that it should be well done.
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Reading Progress

04/13/2012 page 65
48.0% "Aw, this is just the cutest book on astrophysics I have ever seen. And quite adequate too in terms of content. Nice going, grandpa!"

Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Hayes (new)

Hayes I was going to suggest that you translate it, Manny. This looks wonderful and I will try to find a copy when I am in the States this summer. Thanks for the recommendation.

Manny It's a lovely little book! More distinguished scientists should explain things to their smart grandchildren.

message 3: by ☯Bettie☯ (last edited Jul 25, 2012 03:15AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

☯Bettie☯ Great stuff - I have bagged mine

Here are some copies in English:

Manny I look forward to seeing more reviews!

Manny PS I have added the English edition and combined with the French one.

message 6: by Hayes (new)

Hayes Awful cover, innit? I might have to buy the French one!

message 7: by Manny (last edited Jul 25, 2012 04:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Yes, I also preferred the French cover! It's much truer to the spirit of the book...

Manny PPS Cute review of the English edition here!

message 9: by Hayes (new)

Hayes That is nice; thanks for the link.

Kalliope I just ordered it. Thank you for the recommendation.

Manny I will be interested to see what you think!

Kalliope I think my opinion will be a mix of that of a child and a grandparent conflated into one...

Kalliope Manny, the book arrived yesterday. Will probably read it as soon as I finish my Hungarian novel.

Manny Yay!

As it happens, I have just ordered another book by him, La première seconde. Will start on it soon!

Kalliope Manny wrote: "Yay!

As it happens, I have just ordered another book by him, La première seconde. Will start on it soon!"

Will wait for your review. Another interesting one is
La Plus Belle Histoire Du Monde.

By the way, I am watching the DVD series Cosmos, by Sagan, and I it is hilarious (and very good).

Kalliope Just started reading it. It is wonderful. Thanks.

Manny So glad to hear you like it! I am now about two-thirds of the way through La première seconde and enjoying that too. His style is very distinctive.

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