The best books on the mysteries of the cosmos

The Books I Picked & Why

Cosmology: The Science of the Universe

By Edward R. Harrison

Cosmology: The Science of the Universe

Why this book?

Cosmology encompasses our modern understanding of the universe, but what a strange universe it is, born in a fiery Big Bang, dominated by the dark-side, and expanding into a never-ending future. In his classic book, Harrison lays out the science of cosmology, exploring the nature of the Big Bang, the meaning of expansion, and our place in a seemingly infinite cosmos. With a lucid style, I love Harrison’s tour of modern cosmology. It is not just required reading for the cosmologist in training but is also essential for anyone wondering just how our universe works.    


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The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe

By Steven Weinberg

The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe

Why this book?

Written by Nobel Prize winner, Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes unpacks the complex physics underway in the first few minutes of the universe. From an initial time where densities and temperatures were so high that no normal matter could exist, Weinberg follows the universe as it expands and cools, through the first nuclear matter, to the formation of the initial chemical elements and beyond. This book influenced me as a young cosmologist, revealing the power of physics in unraveling the events that shaped the universe in a blink of an eye.


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The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity

By Greg Laughlin, Fred Adams

The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity

Why this book?

What does tomorrow hold for the universe? Through this book, the authors step into the far future of the cosmos, starting from our universe today, lit with stars and galaxies, to a hundred trillion years hence when the last star has died. But at this point, the story has only just begun, and the authors continue to the distant time when matter will eventually melt, and black holes will evaporate into the background. Whilst some of the physics is speculative this is an exciting ride which reminds us, like everything, the universe is slowly and steadily winding down.


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The New Ambidextrous Universe: Symmetry and Asymmetry from Mirror Reflections to Superstrings

By Martin Gardner

The New Ambidextrous Universe: Symmetry and Asymmetry from Mirror Reflections to Superstrings

Why this book?

In the 1950s it was discovered that the cosmos was broken, a thing we boringly call parity violation. Physicists were shocked as they realized that the universe was not as perfect and symmetrical as they assumed. In his wonderful book, Gardner explores the meaning of symmetry and asymmetry in nature, from the fact that life prefers molecules with a particular twist, to the startling revelation that our universe seen in a mirror is not our universe. Whilst physicists have made their peace with a fundamentally broken universe, for the uninitiated the discovery is still disturbing.   


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Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

By Lee Smolin

Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

Why this book?

Modern physics has a problem. It is built on two key theories, Einstein’s general theory of relativity that explains the action of gravity, and quantum mechanics that accounts for the other fundamental forces. But these are incompatible, and physicists have tried to stitch these together for more than a century. Smolin explores the landscape of the leading contenders on the path to quantum gravity, including string theory, M-theory, and loop quantum gravity, highlighting the doors that will be opened when the journey is complete, from revealing the heart of black holes, to understanding where our universe came from. An important lesson is that physics is far from complete, and there is so much more to be discovered. 


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