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The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  11,094 ratings  ·  191 reviews
A Nobel Prize-winning physicist explains what happened at the very beginning of the universe, and how we know, in this popular science classic.

Our universe has been growing for nearly 14 billion years. But almost everything about it, from the elements that forged stars, planets, and lifeforms, to the fundamental forces of physics, can be traced back to what happened in jus
Paperback, 203 pages
Published August 18th 1993 by Basic Books (first published January 1st 1977)
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Akinbo Ojo Interesting question on an interesting book by a well acclaimed physicist and author. However as Roger Penrose says in his forthcoming book, Fashion, …moreInteresting question on an interesting book by a well acclaimed physicist and author. However as Roger Penrose says in his forthcoming book, Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe, this account of the universe’s history contains its own share of fantasy. In this regard, I point out one, which is an attempt to make the universe materially wealthy overnight… a fantasy to get-rich-quick.
If cosmologists decide to be greedy and fantasize the acquisition of all our current material wealth within three minutes, i.e. ~10^52kg (~10^69J), given the standard model expansion rate, our universe will be about 5.4 x 10^10m radius (with volume ~ 6.6 x 10^32m^3), giving us an energy density of ~10^36 J/m^3 (~10^19kg/m^3) at this time. This energy density translates to temperatures about 6.6 x10^12K and ambient energies of ~669 MeV, which is so much higher than can permit the formation of nuclei for deuterium (binding energy <2.2 MeV, ~10^10K) and helium (binding energy < 28.3 MeV, ~10^11K) and the Big bang nucleo-synthesis model will collapse.
If however, we allow Mother Nature to build the universe gradually, according to Hypothesis 1 in the book, Hypotheses Fingo to wit;
"The Universe is increasing in mass and radius from an initial zero value in accord with the formula M = rc^2/2G which amounts to about 6.75 x 10^26kg per metre change in radius (and about 2.02 x 10^35kg per second)",

the mass of the universe will be about 3.6 x10^37kg (~ 3.24 x10^54J) at the end of the first three minutes, and not 10^52kg. This being so, given the volume (i.e. 6.6 x 10^32m^3) the energy density will be 4.9 x10^21J/m^3 at three minutes and the corresponding temperatures and ambient energies for the energy density will be ~10^9K and 0.1 MeV (~10^-4 GeV) respectively, just the right temperature for Mother Nature to cook us a perfect dinner of hydrogen-helium nuclei soup where both nuclei are stable.
*For reference, see Wikipedia: Chronology of the universe, and also Hyperphysics website, for the timelines. And for formulae that relate energy density within a given volume to the temperature using blackbody radiation laws which can be used to calculate the matter-energy content at different epochs, see Same formulae are used to estimate the 10^32K temperature at the Planck epoch from the Planck density and are still applicable at three minutes. Further discussion can be found in Hypotheses Fingo, see

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Orhan Pelinkovic
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The First Three Minutes is about the first narrative ever to take stage in our universe. The story starts off as a mystery in the void of nothingness when time didn't exist. This enigma (time zero) can be visualized as a single point with infinite density and temperature, but millions of times smaller than this period. Out of this "point" an explosion occurred, or a rapid expansion initiated, that was spread out into the emptiness.

At 0.01 seconds at a temperature of 100 billion degrees kelvins o
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in Big Questions
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth...”

“Can we leave out God and just say that, in the beginning, the Universe got created?”


“Oh well, leave it in for now. Let's continue.”

The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)
May 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Steven Weinberg, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, has made a genuine attempt to explain the Big Bang to a general audience, and while I did come away from this with a better understanding of the narrative of the events, the process remains a mystery. At first I thought that my lack of enjoyment of this was down to my own astonishing poverty of knowledge in matters of physics and cosmology. However, having looked a little further into it, it seems I am not the only one who found thi ...more
Hinduism: Lord Brahma Created the world
Christianity: (Bible, Genesis 1:1) In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.
Islam: (Quran 7:54) Allah created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, in six days.

OK! let’s fuck that!!

Before you start reading this book, I request you to check the below two discoveries and why they are very important in the field of physics (especially in Cosmology, Astronomy).

1. Discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiati
Israa Hassan
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: astrophysics
A good book, but I wonder how it was written for general readers with these too much details 🤔
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: space, physics
This is my second time reading this. Still magical.
Feb 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful introduction to the origin of the universe and the Big Bang Theory. Written by Nobel Prize Winner Steven Weinberg, this book is challenging for a significant part, but is not beyond the reach of a general reader. As Weinberg says in his introduction we have to puzzle through the detailed arguments to understand it well and use that to make up our mind. If you don't have the patience for that and want to read it like a regular book, still the book has a lot to offer. One of the things ...more
Bob Nichols
The first run through on this book was hard. Technical, detailed, dry. Second run through was better - started to absorb more, though, as before, the writing was largely over my head. A few highlights, and comments and questions:

From the preface, Weinberg, reflecting on whether or not to write this book, says: "What could be more interesting than the problem of Genesis? Also, it is in the early universe, especially the first hundredth of a second, that the problems of the theory of elementary pa
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book for the mind of an inquisitive reader who loves the challenge of discovering beauty inside complexity. The book might seem a little unfriendly with its dull ‘personality’, but it has many insightful reflections powerful enough to stretch our capacity of understanding beyond the rigid web of thought connection imposed to us (more or less) by the world we live in . I would highly recommend it to all those looking for a good source of knowledge or inspiration , and to all those who feel the ...more
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read this book last year, at a time when I didn't have as much knowledge about the topics involved (still haven't, absolutely speaking).

Steven Weinberg is a gifted writer, and the first half of the book is excellent. In this part, Weinberg mainly explains the discovieres related to our conception of an 'expanding universe' (chapter 2) and the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation as a vindication of the big bang theory (chapter 3).

After this, Weinberg plunges into the domain
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
written by the Nobel prize winner Steven Weinberg. This book is gold standard for science writing. Accurate and precise descriptions and explanations of astronomical phenomena concerning the early universe, without the hazy (lazy) metaphors, tired facsimiled tropes and stories, personal gossip, and misleading verbal pictures that populate a tiring lot of science writing and imbue them with a spirit of being dismissible entertainment. I think, with this book, the reader will actually learn stuff ...more
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: universe
Wonderfully written!
Although it's a popular science book, it's ingrained with subtle equations. There is also a mathematical supplement at the end for easy reference. Although the book is a little outdated( in terms of dark energy and age of the universe), it is a must read book for cosmology enthusiasts.
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mr. Weinberg wrote a short, serviceable volume on the earliest development of our universe. Because this work was published in 1977, science has advanced, though I believe there remains much to be gleaned here for the casually curious. For example, the author makes no mention of dark matter nor dark energy, presumably because these concepts are of more recent provenance.

Messrs. Penzias and Wilson, who accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave radiation background, made a significant contribut
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Most of this book is wrong. However, this is perhaps the most wonderful thing about science. It advances so rapidly, that some game-changing discoveries (such as the massivity of the neutrino) can emerge in such short notice.

I've been deferring reading this book for over 5 years now, and I am very glad that I finally found the time for it. The universe is indeed very strange. And it is bizarre, but a jolly wonderful coincidence that Wilson and Penzias discovered the CMB radiation, and that all a
Julie Spencer
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a fascinating journey I began last year whilst reading this book. It is not an easy read to the non-scientifically programmed mind. It has taken me until recently to finish, Wow! But, worth it. A friend had been talking to me about the subject of science and the earth, and how we came to be. My children had been asking, how was earth created? Then, I came across this book quite by chance and what a little wonder it is. (My copy used to belong to a Lecturer at the University of Hull, they ga ...more
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed listening to this, if for no other reason to hear about the history of how our understanding of the universe developed. Actually that’s probably the best element of the book. The scientific details are just hard to comprehend. The numbers are very , very large or very, very small so it’s hard for a non physicist to get a feel for what’s going on. Every time the author talked about time in the early universe I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world they calculated the values they use ...more
Mark Moon
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
High quality popular science from a real expert! Some of the details are dated: this book was originally published in 1977, and then reprinted in 1993 with an afterword containing updated information.
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you want to know what happened right after big bang, how matter arrived in the first place and fate of the universe, this is the right book. Might be the best book on early history of the universe.
Ambuj Arind
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself.”
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physics
A bang in the dawn: Physics of the origin of the universe

This book in cosmology requires some knowledge in undergraduate level physics, where the author chronicles the very early history of the universe while describing the underlying physical concepts. In the light of epoch experiments to be conducted with new Large Hadron Collider (LHC), during October 2008 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The LHC will create the conditions of less than a millionth of a second after Big
Pete daPixie
Sep 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: stardust
The author is Professor of Physics at Harvard, which is fairly indicative of the level of 'The First Three Minutes'.
Marcus Chown's account of this subject matter is a better bet for the lay reader. Weinberg's account of the 'big bang', is a deeper dive into cosmology and particle physics, that I feel is more suited towards the student than the lay reader. However, this book is written in a style that can guide and carry the curious towards the frontiers of the sub atomic. Published in 1977, I'm
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: physics lovers
Recommended to Katarzyna by: my Dad
Written in a scientific but accessible language, sometimes even funny. Definitely worth reading and recommending. In case of doubt, a useful dictionary and mathematical tables at the end.
فےـيےـصِےـل | Faisal
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
For everyone who wants to get into the real deal of particle physics but without all the equations and integrals. It's a heavy paragraph, nearly every line is just the tip of huge mountain, Sometimes you have to go to wikipedia to know what Steven Weinberg is talking about.
দি প্র
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I become acquainted with this book through the publication of Bangladesh Astronomical Society and momentarily it took me on a continuous swirl. From a categorical perspective it has also not escaped the arguments, but for general readers indeed it's a GEM. ...more
Jul 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic-science
I'm not a physicist but I thought this was a very useful introduction to the thinking in physics at the time. It's probably a bit dated now. I find it fairly clear reading and enjoyable. ...more
Rahell Omer
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Three stars to Weinberg's 'The First Three Minutes' ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Only 50,000 words but a taxing book, even though I've read it several times.

This latest reading was a bit easier; I might have learned something. But I still struggled to stay awake when reading chapters 3, 4 and 5 (of this eight-chapter book).

I like Weinberg and have read a lot of his output; he's exerted influence upon my thinking. I understand very little of physics, but I enjoy reading Weinberg's musings on "the meaning of it all," which mostly fills chapters 1, 2, 6, 7, and (famously) cha
A note on the inside of my copy of “The First Three Minutes” says that my mother bought this book as a gift for her nerdy science-obsessed son in 1993. During the intervening quarter of a century I’ve charged up its steep hill of words and data on multiple occasions, failing to reach the summit every time. I’d get bogged down in the slurry of words and minute details that serve to confound more than to elucidate. It is a rare book indeed where the mathematical supplement is, in fact, clearer tha ...more
Franks V.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it

This classic of contemporary science writing by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist explains to general readers what happened when the universe began, and how we know.



"Science writing at its best." -- --Martin Gardner, New York Review of Books

About the Author

Steven Weinberg received the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in unifying two of the fundamental forces of nature, and in 1991 he was awarded the National Medal of Science at the White House. His earlier prize-winning book T

Nov 17, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was not at all what I expected. My own fault lays in not looking up the publish date for the book (1977 and updated 1991) for a subject so impacted by on-going research. On the other hand, Weinberg's prose was not very helpful either. Despite having a mathematical appendix (a good compromise to bridge the needs of a lay reader and the demands of a more interested and mathematically savvy audience), Weinberg still lets these calculations dominate the narrative. Unlike books like "A Univ ...more
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Steven Weinberg (born May 3, 1933) is an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics for his contributions with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow to the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles.

He holds the Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departme

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