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August 23, 2016

Review: How it Began: a Time-traveler’s Guide to the Universe by Chris Impey, 2012.

Not the sort of book I can read in an extended sitting. Too much information and too many mind-bending 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 him is because of the peculiarities of a monkey in South America. He describes the size of the solar system in terms of apricots and peas and football fields, etc etc etc.

It works. The strategy allows me to put a new piece of information up against what I already know. Like measuring the starting height for the Olympic high jump in my living room: I can then stand and look at it … and wonder!

There is so much to wonder at.

Thanks to Chris Impey, (I think) I now have a decent grasp of event horizons, black holes, why the sky is so dark at night, how little stuff there is in this universe, why the Big Bang stands up as a reputable theory, and so on. The sheer emptiness of the universe is truly astounding.

I am grateful.

The third section bamboozled me more often. I was altogether lost among the fermions and bosons for a while there.

Impey is a scientist. He grapples with the theological theory of the Intelligent Designer with respect and clarity. He presents a position that is straightforward and reasonable. For me, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t need proofs and arguments anymore; I believe in a divine essence/deity/God/etc because of my experience.

Why am I reading this book? What has it got to do with the next book I want to write? To quote Carl Sagan: ‘In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.’ (1980)