Book Review — The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack is a look at the end of the Universe as well as its history. Mack is a theoretical cosmologist and Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University. Her research investigates dark matter, vacuum decay, and the epoch of reionization.

Popular science books are a growing market. In the early 1980s, I read Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Nonscientists by Fred Allan Wolf. It was the first of its kind for me — Hard science without the math. Not that I had anything against math, but I wanted to read for pleasure as well as to learn. Math provides the proof for the writing, but if the reader is willing to trust that the author did all the math, it’s all good. It’s much the same way one can operate, understand, and repair a gasoline engine without knowing all the engineering mathematics that had gone into its creation. There are plenty of books on quantum mechanics, relativity, and cosmology for those interested in science but without the mathematical background. 

With all the science books out there, why choose Mack’s book? Mack has something in her style that is unique. Some writers come off as arrogant and might even be the type of person who would kill off a planet. Others are excellent, like Michio Kaku. Others write a book hoping to popularize their theory. I have not read a more inviting scientist than Mack since Sagan. She has that manner of talking to an old friend. It encourages to reader to continue. She also has a sense of humor and probably the most enjoyable footnotes I have ever read. 

Mack begins with the history of the Universe from the Big Bang until now and then moves to the death scenarios of the Universe in a very understandable manner. The death of the Universe can happen in a few ways. Gravity can pull it back into a singularity and possibly bounce back. If gravity does not contract the Universe, it can end by Heat Death, basically running out of energy. These two theories have been around for quite some time in one form or another. Two other theories are presented — Vacuum Decay and the Big Rip. All theories are discussed in an understandable manner. The readers need not fear words like quantum mechanics and relativity. Although not in their complete mathematical form, they are described in a way a layperson can understand and not so oversimplified to turn off someone with some college courses in science.

Mack not only makes cosmology and physics understandable she makes it inviting. There is an enthusiasm for sharing knowledge that is missing in many other books on similar subjects. That enthusiasm is contagious and welcoming. She will give the reader an understanding of the big picture of cosmology as well as a few Douglas Adams references. Extremely well done. 

1 Comment

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One response to “Book Review — The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

  1. pdtillman

    Saw this review while looking at another that Carol. liked. I liked this one of yours. Thanks for writing it!

    Cheers — Pete Tillman
    http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8101737-peter-tillman

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