Student Review: Three Steps to the Universe: From the Sun to Black Holes to the Mystery of Dark Matter

December 3, 2009

Three Steps to the Universe is an enjoyable read, providing a fresh perspective on what can be a dense and complex subject.

It seems to target a wide audience, from those who are unfamiliar with the scientific method and the ideas of perception, to those who have a good grasp of the subject. As an undergraduate, I found this book a nice break from some of the heavy-going textbooks required for my course, while I still benefited from the ideas explored within it.

The authors' style is garrulous and friendly, and strays away from the complex mathematics involved in modelling the Universe. The result is that the book is good for light reading, and also for a pre-university audience. It covers a wide range of topics, including quantum mechanics, relativity and astronomy, although not in any considerable depth; nevertheless, it is a nice introduction to the subject.

One theme I really enjoyed was the separation between what is seen, what is detected and what is theory within our Universe: this is a continuous topic throughout the book. This separation may seem straightforward; however, the book highlights the issues of error and misinterpretation that arise from this. This point, in my perspective, really hits the nail on the head, as any university student will agree. I am constantly coming across the theme of old theory contradicting new evidence, the result of which is new and improved theory, which provides a better model of how things work. This is the main reason why I would recommend this book to students, who can relate to the notion that the ideas they are taught are never the whole story. Moreover, the Garfinkles illustrate a common misconception that there are absolute facts in this Universe, by comparing science to a metaphorical building site with the odd bits being replaced every so often.

The authors also provide a nice description of how science plays a part in the modern world, with engineers using old (accepted) theories to build, while cutting-edge theory is really an unfinished product.

This book is very enjoyable and I have already recommended it to people reading physics at university. I would not stop there, however. I would invite anyone with an open mind and an interest in this topic to have a read.

Who is it for? Anyone who is curious about physics and science in general.

Presentation: It is well laid out and has a nice use of diagrams where necessary. There is quite a large disparity between the text font on the first page of each chapter and the rest of the text, which is unique but not unpleasant.

Would you recommend it? Yes, I already have!

Three Steps to the Universe: From the Sun to Black Holes to the Mystery of Dark Matter

Author: David Garfinkle and Richard Garfinkle

Edition: First

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Pages: 280

Price: £17.50

ISBN: 9780226283463

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