Stephanie's Reviews > Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe

Before the Big Bang by Brian Clegg
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May 06, 10

Recommended for: Science Nerds
Read from April 22 to May 05, 2010, read count: 1

Frankly, this book alternately thrilled me and made me want to throw it against the wall. I’m pretty sure my husband is glad I’m finally done reading it because I’ll stop ranting at him about things I read in this book.

A few highlights:

Author Brian Clegg: “Science has no remit to comment on religion, nor should religion attempt to shape science...” (p. 5)
Me: Yes! I’ll spare you the details, but this is one of my favorite things to rant about.

Clegg: “[Science:] can never truly prove something” (p. 82).
Me: /eyeroll/ A favorite argument of science ubergeeks. And technically, they’re right. What we think is true today could easily be called into question by something we discover tomorrow.* But (and this is an important but) who cares? Science has allowed us to put a man on the moon, build cell phones, predict eclipses, send incredibly accurate GPS satellites into orbit, etc. The science may not be completely right, but it’s clearly close enough for a lot of things.

Clegg: “With due respect to [Neil deGrasse:] Tyson and [Donald:] Goldsmith, they are wrong” (p.161).
Clegg: (Referring to physicist Michio Kaku’s belief that time travel is in the foreseeable future) “Kaku has hope on his side, and it would be churlish to deprive him of his dreams” (p.246).
Me: Condescending much? Give him credit, Clegg is brimming with self-confidence, but he’s a scientist; he should know better. He himself just pointed out that scientific theories have to evolve and change. Maybe he should be a little more tactful. After all, Clegg is bound to be wrong about something.

Clegg: The Big Bang theory is “much patched.” This is a bad thing.
Me: And so what if it is? Theories don’t spring forth fully-formed like some Greek goddess. All theories have to be “patched” and altered as new data surfaces. I would especially expect theories about cosmology to be “patched” since they deal with such an enormous subject (just the entire universe), and we knew so little to start with and are finding out so much more as new technology is developed.

In spite of my problems with his opinions, Clegg does provide a good overview of cosmology (the study of the universe: its origins, structure, laws, etc.), and the ideas are fascinating...when I could understand them. You see, the universe, in addition to being vast and ancient, is also really weird. It’s not exactly easy to wrap one’s mind around concepts like infinity and multiple dimensions and things being in more than one place at one time. I have a (dusty, long neglected) physics degree and this stuff blows my mind. Overall, a fascinating subject, but definitely not an easy read.

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* A favorite example is Newton’s Laws. Einstein’s relativity came along and showed that they weren’t entirely correct -- Newton’s Laws don’t work as you approach the speed of light. I say, big deal! When was the last time you traveled at the speed of light? For most of us, even scientists, Newton’s Laws work very well, thank you very much.
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