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How It Began: A Time-Traveler's Guide to the Universe

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  166 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
In this vibrant, eye-opening tour of milestones in the history of our universe, Chris Impey guides us through space and time, leading us from the familiar sights of the night sky to the dazzlingly strange aftermath of the Big Bang.

What if we could look into space and see not only our place in the universe but also how we came to be here? As it happens, we can. Because it t
ebook, 448 pages
Published March 26th 2012 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2012)
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Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research, library, science
I love cosmology books. And I enjoyed this one, which spun backwards from the formation of Earth's moon to the earliest beginnings of the universe. I particularly liked Impey's intro and outro to each chapter, where he envisioned what it would be like to see some of these cosmic wonders in person. Some of the stuff at the end was kind of esoteric and over my head (not surprisingly). But I also learned a cool new word, apophenia, which refers to the brain's tendency to perceive patterns where non ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's a fantastic update on the frontline of cosmology and the scientific journey that's taken us there, as well as frankly showing us the enduring questions & mysteries we still face. All that, and written in a completely compelling storytelling tone that takes you from your own place here and now, to the farthest reaches of time and space.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Impey makes travel through time and the universe in first person type accounts.
Brendan Howard
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A truly marvelous book, requiring occasionally a little patience to march, bleary-eyed through a few pages of explanation before diving back into the explanations as metaphors. This was exactly the book I was looking for when I found it, by happenstance, at the library. It is a recent and beautiful book of the state of today's cosmology. Truly wonderful.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't really comment on how this book compares to other books about astronomy and what we know about the early universe. I don't know if this is better or worse than other similar books. All I know is that I loved reading this book, and I loved learning about our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe.

Mr. Impey starts the book on Earth, and progressively moves out from our world to the solar system, to nearby galaxies, and then to more distant galaxies, all the while explaining how discove
John Sheahan
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tassie-novel
Not the sort of book I can read in an extended sitting. Too much information and too many mindbending ideas. The style is colloquial which is most helpful for an amateur in the field.
Impey’s strength is that he does a fine job of explaining difficult concepts in reasonably simple terms with numerous analogies to the ordinary and everyday. So, to illustrate the chanciness of any one thing occurring, he tells the story of how he met his wife, that the reason his son – this son – is listening to h
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, science
I figure if I read enough of these sort of books, I might actually understand the theories.

I could have done without the sci-fi bits that began and ended each chapter. I'd puzzle through them and then have to reorient my brain to the actual science presented.

The first several chapters were great. So were the last few. The nine in the middle, well, I was ratherlost. Or perhaps I was in an alternate universe? Or maybe it's all part of the alien simulation?

Favorite quotes:
"Ironically deists and a
Well this was very much not at all what it promised to be. The way the description and even introduction made it sound was that it would be discussing the few minutes immediately following the Big Bang, but what it actually was was just another pop sci book about "the universe" look back from now and into the past. That said, it wasn't bad. It was very thoughtfully told and the author's anecdotes gave it a little something that made it different enough from, say, Simon Singh's "Big Bang" that it ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is the second book by Impey I have read, and they both left me with a feeling of 'it was ok, nothing special.' I have seen Impey give talks and I have always enjoyed them; he has a way with speaking to an audience. For me, it just doesn't translate into the written word.

There is lots of good information in this book, so perhaps I just don't like his writing style. He explains the beginnings of the Earth, the Solar System, Stars, and the Universe, among other things. There wasn't a lot of ne
Oct 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
How it began is a good summary of where cosmology is as of now. It does not try to provide new information or perspective. Rather, the biggest utility of the book is in its structure, coherence and simplicity.

The book starts somewhat weak by spending time on earth and solar systems, The real science (howsoever speculative or deductive) comes in as the book moves to stars and galaxies. For any avid reader of cosmology, there is little that will be new. However, the way the book navigates through
Silvio Curtis
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Popular cosmology oriented more towards the astronomical side - what kinds of object are out there - than the physical. It has three parts: first, our solar system and other star systems in the Milky Way; second, other galaxies; last, the Big Bang and the origins of the universe. Really it's only the last part that justifies the book's title, since the other sections are more about the universe's present than its past, though they're all equally interesting. The scientific information is mixed w ...more
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
A comprehensive book about the entire universe, structured as a journey both away from Earth in distance, and back in time. Really interesting throughout, but I have to say I was way more interested in the astronomy portion of the book (IE: the chapters about observable phenomena) rather than the later chapters to do with theoretical physics (quarks, quantum stuff, branes, string theory, etc). I guess I need to just seek out more books about the former topic.

This is definitely not a popular scie
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
HOW IT BEGAN: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe. (2012). Chris Impey. ***.
The author is an Astronomy Professor at the University of Arizona (Tucson), and has written other books on similar subjects. I have to confess that I put it down after getting half-way through it. I didn’t find anything new in it, nor were things that I previously didn’t understand made any clearer by the author’s skill with words. This would be a great book if it was the first you picked up on the topic, but it is
Gerald Heath
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book about the creation of the universe. It travels backwards through time, from the origins of the earth and the moon, to the meaning of the singularity before the big bang. Once again, this is for people who are open-minded about how God chose to create the universe.

I found the information about dark matter and dark energy wonderful and mysterious. How incredible that 95% of the matter and energy in the universe is undetectable to our senses. While the book is not religious, I fou
Todd Martin
How It Began: A Time-Traveler's Guide to the Universe starts with the present and works its way back to the beginning of time examining astronomical features of the universe along the way. Some good information can be found in the book, but I didn’t find it particularly absorbing. Part of the problem lies in the fictionalized time travel accounts, which came across as awkward and unnecessary, part was the writing style and the rest was probably due to the fact that I really wasn’t in the mood to ...more
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and poetic contemplation of our place in the cosmos, the mysteries therein and a study of how we got here, both in terms of the history of astrophysical thought and the processes that shaped our cosmos over fourteen billion years. I'm a sci-fi/time travel/astrophysics nerd so I loved swimming around in the implications, questions, discoveries and lessons that Impey explores in this book. Really well written, this is a humbling and completely engrossing celebration of the vastness a ...more
Mar 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book, but it made me realize how little I understand math and physics. This was a tough slog to read and I wish I had understood more of it.

The author clearly is excited about cosmology and is almost giddy to contemplate the discoveries that await the scientists of the future.

Best line from the book p. 161: "The universe is mocking us with its secrets."

Ripu Jain
Nov 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply best storytelling style read about the Cosmos - our current understanding of how it all began, the latest and greatest theories out there to explain the big and the small, and things we currently don't understand and know about the universe. Recommend it to anyone who is curious about this topic.
This is a good survey of current ideas about the universe and some speculations about what directions physics will take in the future. In each chapter there are dream sequences in italics in which the author imagines traveling in the time/space described in the chapter. I found these distracting, and would have liked the book much better without them.
Russ Bell
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This very good read explains the relationship between cosmology and the latest discoveries and theories concerning particle physics and the very beginnings of our universe and perhaps other universes. Very well written and thought provoking.
Mark S
Jul 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

An interesting read, but at times seems to jump around quickly. Only scratches the surface of the topics of the universe, but makes a great snapshot of what we know about the cosmos and the universe.
As seen in Nature .
Kelly Parker
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and fascinating.
Feb 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The science was informative. Also liked the biographical sketches of the astronomers. I could have done without the "eye witness" journey in each chapter.
Great book. Explains the big and small realities of space and quantum physics in a way that anyone can understand.
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a great guide to learning how stars work and how they die. I would recommend this book to anyone who love to learn about the universe, the galaxy, and neighboring solar systems.
Eric F Knox
Aug 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new
Fantastic read!
Oct 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For me, I have read better books on the subject.
rated it really liked it
Jan 25, 2013
Matthew Smith
rated it it was amazing
Jan 30, 2017
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Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor in the Astronomy Department and Associate Dean in the College of Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has written popular articles on astronomy and is the author of a number of popular science books. The Living Cosmos is a tour of the search for life in the universe, and the pair of books How It Ends and How It Began cover the origi ...more
More about Chris Impey...