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The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  6,126 ratings  ·  382 reviews
The epic, behind-the-scenes story of an astounding gap in our scientific knowledge of the cosmos.

In the past few years, a handful of scientists have been in a race to explain a disturbing aspect of our universe: only 4 percent of it consists of the matter that makes up you, me, our books, and every planet, star, and galaxy. The rest—96 percent of the universe—is
Hardcover, 297 pages
Published January 10th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin (first published December 11th 2010)
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Daniel Morris Great book. I'm only halfway through but it's already been amazing. It's not what I expected but happy I tried it. I have the audiobook.

Great book. I'm only halfway through but it's already been amazing. It's not what I expected but happy I tried it. I have the audiobook.

SEMI-ANSWER: It's 12 hours long. Not sure of page length.(less)

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Riku Sayuj
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: r-r-rs, science-gen
Now this is how an honest-to-goodness popular science book ought to be like. The book basically tracks the same story as A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss and even has Lawrence as a character every now and then. Because I was familiar with the story and its ending, this time around I could concentrate on the telling of the story more than the actual events themselves and I was struck by the high contrast of how Richard Panek handles the material and how Krauss had presented it in his ...more
Sep 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to know how science really works
What a very strange book this is, and what a very strange guy Richard Panek seems to be. I know many autistic-spectrum people, and I wonder if he isn't a little autistic. One of the most characteristic things about autistic people is the unevenness in their range of abilities. They are usually extremely good at some things and staggeringly incompetent at others. Panek is definitely a bit in that direction.

Panek sets out to tell us about the most recent chapters in the exciting history of
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
This was another book that ended up being sold on false advertising. Now, you might be forgiven for thinking a book called the 4% universe is going to be about, well, cosmology or something crazy like that. This was mostly about the infighting between groups of cosmologists and as such it goes to prove that a physics degree is no protection from being a wanker. The cosmology, far too often, comes second.

That a tedious obsession with ‘being first’ and ‘beating the other guy’ is as bad for science
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've been on something of a science kick lately. This is my third science-based audiobook this year, and it's only early April. I've enjoyed them all, even if I can't say that I understood everything in them. This book, though, felt like a desert triathlon compared to the other two leisurely strolls in the park. This book was exhausting. But I say that in the best way possible. I think.

First, let me just say that this book is seriously fascinating. I love astronomy and cosmology, so I'm
Jan 30, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics, astronomy
This is really an enjoyable, easy-to-read book on the recent history of cosmology. Read this book and you will understand the big questions in cosmology--there are no answers yet. I especially appreciate the descriptions of recent advances in astronomical observation techniques, and the telescopes (optical and radio) that are used. I thought that a bit too much of the book is devoted to the competition to find and measure supernovae, and the squabbles that ensued.
Eric Rasmussen
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
I have a lot of respect for this book, but after reading it (and rereading large portions of it), I was unable to retain anything from it. First, it is primarily the story of the scientists behind the recent advances in cosmology and the search for dark matter and energy, and without the benefit of any character development, I was unable to keep anyone straight. I could not recount any of the story of discovery, the teams involved, or the people that won the awards, as there is not much ...more
Jun 29, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stem
This book has been hanging around on my shelf for a while, and I finally picked it up after having an amusing conversation about spherical cows which reminded me that I should really re-read The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics

Let there be dark. Let there be doubt

I have chosen this quote because it links contemporary cosmology with my current favourite book, The Left Hand of Darkness in which my favourite character ‘prays’ at night “
This is a deeply frustrating book to read because Panek took no time to craft an overall meta-analysis to tie together all of the elements of his story. This is a subtle point and I will try to briefly explain what I mean below. I am all the more frustrated because the story of dark matter and dark energy, however the scientific understanding plays out in the future, is absolutely fascinating. But upon reflection, I have to issue what is perhaps the most damning verdict that can be passed on a ...more
Paul Preuss
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hard-science
For 20 years or so after the first Star Wars movie came out, most people who mentioned "dark" and "universe" in the same breath were talking about Darth Vader and the Dark Side. Doubtless some of the movie's fans were also astronomy fans who'd heard about the evidence for real dark matter -- not what it is (nobody yet knows what it is) but what it does, flattening galaxies, speeding up their rotation, and invisibly sculpting the structure of the visible night sky. Yet the import of that ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an attempt to tell the human story behind the discoveries that led to our modern conception of the universe being made up mostly of dark energy, plus about 25% dark matter, and finally about 4% in the form of the matter and energy that we can directly detect, including ourselves. In addition, Panek goes some distance toward explaining in simple terms some pretty abstruse cosmological concepts.

So far, so good. I read the book for relaxation as much as anything else, and at that level I
Todd Martin
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
The 4-Percent Universe The 4-Percent Universe begins with the story of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 by Bell Labs employees in Holmdel, New Jersey. This isn’t what I was expecting, but often science books set the stage with a little history as a prelude to the science. The next chapter? ... More history.

Unfortunately, and contrary to all expectations (I was expecting a science book), the entirety of the book is dedicated to a description of the people who made
Ilsa Bick
Nov 10, 2011 rated it liked it
This year, the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics went to three men--Saul Permutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess--for their discovery of what 96% of the universe is composed of: dark matter and the much more elusive, dark energy. Does anyone really know what these things/entities are? No, but they do make up the majority of the cosmos and dark energy appears to be responsible for the fact that our universe is neither static (as Einstein thought) nor are its boundaries beginning to collapse (as might ...more
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
A funny thing happened to me on the way to.... seriously, this book was given high marks by two friends. I tried listening to it, and abandoned the effort after 3 (out of 9) discs. A lot of the time, I could follow but then had no idea what it was that I had just heard. And sometimes I couldn't follow at all. And occaisionally (but not frequently enough), I understood it perfectly. So not a great experience.

However, (back to the "a funny thing....") over the next couple of weeks I kept hearing
Sam Webster
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
I don't consider the two star review a qualitative measure of "4 Percent Universe", so much as an indication that it failed to deliver what I expected. It is exceptional as a series of biographies of the scientists involved in the search for dark matter, dark energy, and supernovae; it is passable as a layman's course on modern cosmology and the techniques that are being employed; but it falls far short of being a useful study on dark matter and dark energy themselves. These concepts don't even ...more
This book focuses on the history of the discovery of dark energy and dark matter.
It provides a sufficient if not dry survey of historical astronomy in the first half.
The second half goes into some of the yummy meaty details of the arguments for these two dark mysteries.
Though, the last chapter of the book digresses into a history of ugly bickering over who discovered dark energy.
Richard Panek obviously has a bone to pick, and it's a disgusting waste of the reader's time.
My advice is to just skip
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book, allowing the uninitiated into easy comprehension of developments over time that led to current beliefs about the universe. It is almost like reading an action novel as a variety of worker bees announce new discoveries, competing against each other and against time. I have tried and failed to read about quantum theories, getting easily lost. This book manages to take us live into the action and dialogue over the years as theorists, astronomers, cosmologists present papers and ...more
Marjorie Thelen
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This spring I read the non-fiction book by Rickard Panek with the alternative title, “Dark matter, dark energy and the race to discover the rest of reality”. Pretty big title and the mystery still is what the rest of reality is. But he did cover the race to discover it between a group of physicists and astronomers which in the process birthed the science of cosmology. Read the epilogue first. In there on page 242 Panek says, “In early 2010 . . . the results arrived bearing the latest refinements ...more
Jun 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is now the third or fourth book I've read on the modern history of cosmology, particle physics, etc. I keep hoping that if I read enough of them, I'll eventually catch on. Some I learned in the book (which I dearly hope are reasonably accurate, even if garbled in writing):

* Only 4% of the universe is actually observable. The rest is dark matter and dark energy.

* I had heard before that there wasn't enough observed matter in the universe to keep it from imploding (exploding?), but I hadn't
Linda Robinson
May 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Science written by a science writer who gets the facts all right; the universe is vast and galaxies are many, but the breathlessness and wonder of the decades-long sprint are missing. Facts are dry, although when 96% of the universe is stuff we cannot see and know nothing about, facts are sparse in the sky. I expected more juice from a title that includes "race" in it. That's my issue. The book is good reportage. I was looking for the brilliant light shed by Carl Sagan's awestruck "billions and ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: mar-apr-2011
Exploring "one of the most important stories in the history of science" (Washington Post), Panek nimbly outlines recent findings in physics, astronomy, and cosmology and evaluates rival theories in clear, comprehensible language. He also dives into the bureaucratic morass and professional enmities of contemporary research, examining how these discoveries were made as well as who made them. While some critics appreciated this behind-the-scenes human drama as a tool for understanding the full ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
A very readable history of the discovery of dark matter and dark energy, including brief biographies of the scientists involved. Particularly, it illuminates how the pressures of being a human being afflict those who are gifted intellectually and pursue astronomy and physics just as much as us more ordinary types who can't balance our checkbooks and can only recognize the Great Dipper constellation.

By the last chapter in the book, this will make sense to you: "In early 2010, the WMAP seven-year
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting look at modern cosmology, and the perplexing fact that scientists can only account for about 4% of the universe's matter. Another 21% or so is "dark matter", so far rather poorly understood, and fully 75% is "dark energy", that strange characteristic of the universe that is causing it to expand at an accelerating rate. Panek also describes the "cosmological constant" paradox, namely the fact that the energy density of the universe is 120 orders of magnitude lower than the ...more
Julie James
Sep 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I just finished this, and I realize now that he wrote this to describe (as the title clearly indicates) the "race" more than to describe the science. I read the whole book without realizing this and feeling disappointed the whole time that he didn't get more deeply into the science! (Duh.) Now, I realize that he accomplished exactly what the title suggests... and I'll go looking for another new book on particle physics or dark energy or...
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Best history on Vera Ruben that I have read to date. That alone made this a 5 star book.

This elementary introduction to the discovery of dark matter is easy to understand, well written, provides a really nice history and would serve as the perfect book to read in preparation for more difficult books on the subject (e.g. Cosmic Cocktail, A Perfect Theory, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, Gravity's Engines, Warped Passages, Particle at the Edge of the Universe, The Infinity Puzzle, etc).

Ashlee Bree
Jun 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This read more like a biography of the scientists behind cosmological discovery than it did about dark matter and dark energy as universal concepts/theories in general, but I think what I found to be most interesting is how so-called 'simple answers' about the universe have proven themselves to be winding, circuitous, and at times, downright contradictory. Where lambda was concerned, for instance, also known as the cosmological constant, there was so much uncertainty about whether it should hold ...more
Richard Thompson
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: physics
I think that I am going to have to stop reading popular science books by journalists. I like to read science books to learn about science, but I didn't get that here. Most of the science was a rehash of what I already knew, and I don't know much about dark matter and dark energy. The lives of the scientists can be interesting, and some scientists are fascinating characters. Certainly Einstein and Feynman were unique people, and I have been interested in the lives of Hawking, Heisenberg, Dirac, ...more
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."

(Tips hat to Douglas Adams.) Ok, not quite. But the universe has made a lot of people very puzzled and been widely regarding is a mind-boggling mystery. The scientific hunt to find the solution to this mystery is the focus of Richard Panek's book.

In the mid-20th century, humanity (not for the first time) thought it understood the universe. Though there
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great easy to understand discussion of why we(scientists) are certain that dark matter and dark energy exists. And by certain I mean certain right now :) What I liked about this book more than some other science books is that Panek writes a story about how science groups work and the "race" to discover or prove dark matter. The hurdles and roadblocks aren't anything I had ever thought about and the different types of personalities are ones that I encounter frequently in my own work, it was ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This isn't a book about dark matter and dark energy as much as it is a look at the people and events leading to the theories. It's a fascinating read and while it won't leave you any clearer on what dark matter and especially dark energy are, it will explain how we got to a place where such a bizarre theory now seems to be the leading explanation for the universe in which we find ourselves.

For anyone interested in astronomy, physics or the scientific process in general, this makes a great
This book is 4% science, 96% academic drama.

Panek is not a very skilled writer and his cast of characters is near indistinguishable from each other (with the exception of the fabulous Vera Rubin) which makes it impossible to care for the drama since I could barely keep track of which person was on which competing team. This was all the more frustrating since I didn't pick this up to read about people trying to out-publish each other; I wanted science.
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Science and Inquiry: May 2012 - 4 Percent Universe 15 102 Jun 04, 2012 01:10AM  
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Richard Panek, a Guggenheim Fellow in science writing, is the author of The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, which won the American Institute of Physics communication award in 2012, and the co-author with Temple Grandin of The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, a New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York City.
“forever: 23 percent something mysterious that they call dark matter, 73 percent something even more mysterious that they call dark energy. Which leaves only 4 percent the stuff of us. As one theorist likes to say at public lectures, “We’re just a bit of pollution.” Get rid of us and of everything else we’ve ever thought of as the universe, and very little would change. “We’re completely irrelevant,” 3 likes
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