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Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor

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4.02  ·  Rating details ·  271 ratings  ·  85 reviews
What would it have been like to be an eyewitness to the Big Bang? In 2014, astronomers wielding BICEP2, the most powerful cosmology telescope ever made, revealed that they’d glimpsed the spark that ignited the Big Bang. Millions around the world tuned in to the announcement broadcast live from Harvard University, immediately igniting rumors of an imminent Nobel Prize. But ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 24th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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Start your review of Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor
Brian Keating
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Today, I submitted submitted my book for publication by W. W. Norton! I’m beyond thrilled that advance review copy readers have already started giving it high-praise.

Why did I write this book, a work that will most likely have harsh implications for my career?

First, wanted to give the public an insider's glimpse into the inner workings of the world's most prestigious (and opaque) accolade.

Second, while the Nobel Prize began with the noble vision of ‘benefiting all of mankind’, today it distort
...more
David Brin
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary work of intellectual honesty. Astrophysicist Brian Keating explores the fascinating history and mixed effects of the Nobel Prize, especially on the field of physics. For a few years, Keating felt these effects, as people chattered about his own possible candidacy, before the chances and mischances of science changed course. That experience informs "Losing the Nobel." An amazing journey.
Ramin
Jun 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Here's a brief excerpt of the review I published in Undark magazine today. If you're interested, please read the whole thing here: https://undark.org/article/book-revie...


In 2014, a team of astrophysicists excitedly made an announcement that received worldwide media attention. They claimed to have discovered evidence of primordial gravitational waves — confirming the theory of cosmic inflation, which proposed to explain how the universe rapidly expanded just moments after its tumultuous birth. I
...more
JQAdams
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Here we have three half-related books mashed together. One is a quasi-memoir where Keating tells of his career, culminating in a project (BICEP/BICEP2) that he thinks of as a potential Nobel winner, and the various machinations that led to the project happening. Another is about the underlying science of cosmology and what we know about the universe. A third concerns what Keating considers defects in the design and execution of the Nobel Prizes, particularly that in Physics. The three chapters m ...more
Jill Courser
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. 4 stars for the scientific chapters, but 5 stars for his chapters on the problems with the Nobel system interspersed throughout the book. A challenging blend of physics (in layman’s terms), memoir, and cultural criticism. The final two chapters on the ethical issues surrounding modern physics and his coming to terms with the pure joy of scientific inquiry (apart from prestigious awards) are excellent. Keating not only critiques the state of the Nobel Prize in Physics, but offers thoug ...more
Katherine Freese
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! It's a page-turner (not usually what I"d say about science books, but it's true).
It recounts the evolution of the experiment that led to recent claims of discovery of gravitational waves from the earliest moments of the Universe --- claims that later turned out to be (literally) dust. Keating's misgivings about the role of the Nobel Prize as a driver of scientists to rush to discovery make for thought-provoking reading.

The book starts with the major early figures in astronomy a
...more
Peter
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brian Keating’s Losing the Nobel Prize is a truly enlightening and engrossing read, especially for non-scientists interested in learning more about the history of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, as well as the allure of what is probably the most famous single prize in history.

Losing the Nobel successfully weaves together a number of themes and plotlines, including the history of ideas about the universe, its origin, and fate; Keating’s and his team’s relentless pursuit of Nobel-worthy w
...more
Antonio Garcia-Martinez
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Our most august institutions--government, billion-dollar corporations, and even staid academia--are absolutely rife with human politicking, raw ambition, and more back-stabbing than anyone likes to talk about.

In 'Losing the Nobel Prize', Professor Brian Keating describes just some of that jockeying and maneuvering among the smartest people in the world, studying the most abstruse and fundamental knowledge, while chasing humanity's greatest honor. Along the way, Keating provides understandable e
...more
Jon Kaufman
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read for any budding young scientist or science enthusiast. It's a rare insider look at cutting-edge science (in Antarctica, no less!) and an exciting, yet controversial result. In this post-mortem, Dr. Keating deconstructs the Nobel prize as a concept and exposes its arbitrary and inconsistent rules, as well as its biases. He challenges the reader to consider how we regard the prize and how it has the potential to corrupt science.

Dr. Keating's sense of fun and humor are in f
...more
Leonard
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is simply a book you have to read. Unlike many other science books, this particular book is so much more than knowledge being communicated, it is an experience shared. Dr. Keating makes cosmology comprehensible and enjoyable. Even better than this is the fact that Dr. Keating makes the entire book conversant. Simply put, you can hear Dr. Keating in the pages. I highly recommend Losing the Nobel Prize to any reader, as it transcends genre.
Andy Friedman
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Astrophysicist and experimental cosmologist Brian Keating provides a rare behind the scenes view into the ultra competitive world of high stakes science, where both rivals and friends vie for the field's highest and most recognizable honor. Keating makes a compelling case that the lure of the Nobel Prize often results not in simply "the betterment of mankind", as Alfred Nobel himself originally wished, but instead often distorts the science and leaves many otherwise deserving scientists behind a ...more
Kate
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-books
This book was all over the place - I still don’t know what he was trying to write - a text for beginners in astronomy? A text of the history of astronomy? An autobiography? A tell-all of why he deserves the Nobel prize? A critique of the Nobel prize’s rules? A means to show off how many clever sub-titles he can come up with? And there’s a bit of religion, philosophy & even poetry thrown in.

There is certainly a lot of astronomical knowledge imparted - my favourite part was probably learning a li
...more
K. Zandt
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Keating opens the Kimono here, and it's a riveting story. Set against the big picture questions of humanity like how the universe was formed is Keating's own spectacular personal journey as a determined scientist and also as the son of a scientist searching for his own origin story. The book starts out with Keating at the south pole setting up the telescope he's designed, only to learn that his dad has been diagnosed with cancer, and he needs to get home right away. I don't think I had realized ...more
Kee Onn
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Science happens when people are doing it. And even the very best people make mistakes, through ignorance, pride and greed. In this autobiography Brian talks at length of confirmation bias and how it has affected renowned scientists from Galileo to Einstein, and finally on his own project. An insider account follows on the project, from its ideation during his postdoc days at Caltech to the momentous press conference in which he was curiously absent. As he recounted, it turned out to be a moment ...more
Allegra
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is just a terrific book: a combination of science, memoir and polemic about why the Nobel Prize in Physics doesn't best serve the cause of science. Keating was the designer of an experiment that, if it had been proven correct, would have been a shoo-in for the Nobel: but after an announcement of Nobel-worthy results they had to be retracted. Thus, "losing." But there's more to the loss than that - and the experience caused him to reevaluate the Nobel and its mission.
But best of all, for me,
...more
Maria Anna van Driel
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Reading "Losing the Nobel Prize" the world starts to blaze into the background as dr. Brian Keating slowly draws the reader into his life story with a laughter and a tear. Describing the earliest moments in where the universe aroused the curiosity of a 13 year young boy, the emotional moments while his father was fighting cancer, up until discussing the doubts if he and his team truly held the biggest scientific discovery in their hands, let both ones mind and emotions wonder the fabrics of time ...more
Brian
May 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I was surprised to learn how much attempts to win the Noble Prize in Physics motivates research in the field of Cosmology. I find that disturbing and more than a little sad, if it is indeed true. I think Keating is a good writer and while I would probably need to re-read this book to get a better grasp of Cosmology, I still learned a lot from reading this book. His chapters on the field of Cosmology were fascinating and much more interesting than the three chapters he wrote on the Noble Prize aw ...more
Rae
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Part adventure story, part cautionary tale, Brian Keating’s Losing the Nobel Prize is that rare thing among popular science books – a page-turner. It gives the reader an insider’s view of the highly competitive, not to say cut-throat, atmosphere in which modern science is done. Here is a thoughtful, honest look at how the lure of Nobel gold has impacted physicists (Keating included) and physics itself. It will leave you thinking!

Rae Armantrout
Lucio Piccirillo
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a highly original and engaging book about the work of experimental cosmologists. The author explains very clearly the science and technology involved in the field. In addition, and this is the novelty, he adds his personal reflections about the Nobel prize and its impact in the work of scientists. This is truly a remarkable book and is a must read!
Patrick
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A page-turning read that opens up the humanity behind contemporary cosmology, the history of looking to the stars, and the flaws of the Nobel Prize. Highly recommended!
Sarah Olson
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for a fascinating new perspective on the Nobel Prize and its shortcomings, a thrilling narrative of one cosmologist's quest for the gold and pursuit of scientific truth, then look no further. Dr. Brian Keating provides an exciting, in-depth look at "science's highest honor" - but more importantly, how it could be changed for the better. Gender inequity and toxic competition are two of the prize's downsides that Dr. Keating examines. This book is an excellent inside look at the ...more
Lance
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book with lots of valuable insight!
Briley Lewis
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful book, a vivid, personable, and accessible description of the scientific process, and a thought-provoking critique of the Nobel. I really appreciate the author's explanations of scientific concepts (one of the reasons I read it was to improve my own writing about astronomy for the public!) and the multiple story threads that are woven together into a portrait of not only the author and his quest for the prize, but also of modern astronomy and the scientific landscape.

Really,
...more
Richard Archambault
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. I learned a lot about inflation, and about dust! I very much appreciated the author's openness and honesty about himself as well as the science. And his suggestions for improving the Nobel were very well-argued.
Nick
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Professor Keating's in depth expose of the Noble Prize is a fascinating tale of what it's like to be part of a process that very few get to experience. Mr. Keating weaves a prolific story that keeps you engaged to the very end.

In Losing the Noble Prize, professor Keating drops the pants on Noble and we learn that Noble isn't very noble at all. I invite you to take a one of a kind literally journey by joining professor Keating as he tells you like it the ups and the down, in this all that glitte
...more
Melissa Miller
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A great piece of science writing. Dr. Keating explains his field of experimental cosmology well, and makes a strong case that the academic rat race is hurting science.
Brian Miears
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Like getting a peek backstage at this great show we call science! This book will give you massive respect for those who devote their lives to such rigor. And maybe a more discerning eye for the headlines as well.
Jen
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sudharsan
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars rounded up.

Talks about three things. (most times interwined)

1) The authors early life and how he ended up as a cosmologist working on something that had the potential to earn a Nobel.
2) Science lesson on the authors field of specialization.
3) The shortcomings of the current mechanism of giving away the nobel prize.

Parts one and three were mostly straightforward and understandable. Part two, not so much.
Bill Hagan
Mar 01, 2019 is currently reading it
This is a unique and remarkable book. Prof. Keating is an excellent writer and manages to combine understandable explanations of cosmology, experimental details of detecting the origins of time, and wonderful insights into the lives and aspirations of scientists. His personal story is interwoven throughout the overarching story of designing a unique type of telescope and using it to measure the vestiges of the very beginning of our universe: the Big Bang. When the experiment proves to be success ...more
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Brian Keating is a professor of physics at the Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. He is a public speaker, inventor, and an expert in the study of the universe’s oldest light, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), using it to learn about the origin and evolution of the universe. Keating is a pioneer in the search for th ...more

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