The best books about the Big Bang

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Big Bang and why they recommend each book.

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At the Edge of Time

By Dan Hooper,

Book cover of At the Edge of Time: Exploring the Mysteries of Our Universe's First Seconds

If one sets out to understand the universe, one thing one needs to do is understand the laws and rules that govern the matter and energy that makes up the cosmos. The second thing one needs to understand is how it came into existence. In this book, Dan Hooper describes what we know about the first few minutes. Hooper is a theoretical cosmologist at Fermilab, America’s flagship particle physics laboratory. He’s also an excellent author, with a great narrative style. If you want to understand how the Big Bang banged, this is the book for you.


Who am I?

Don Lincoln is both a research scientist and a masterful science communicator. On the science side, he participated in the discovery of both the top quark and the Higgs boson. On the communicator side, he has written books, made hundreds of YouTube videos, and written for such visible venues as Scientific American and CNN. He has both the scientific chops and writer expertise to tell an exciting story about why the universe is the way it is.


I wrote...

Understanding The Universe: From Quarks To The Cosmos

By Don Lincoln,

Book cover of Understanding The Universe: From Quarks To The Cosmos

What is my book about?

The Big Bang, the birth of the universe, was a singular event. All the matter of the visible universe was concentrated at a single point, with temperatures so high that even the familiar protons and neutrons of atoms did not yet exist, but rather were replaced by a swirling maelstrom of energy, matter, and antimatter. Exotic quarks and leptons flickered briefly into existence, before merging back into the energy sea.

This book explains the fascinating world of quarks and leptons and the forces that govern their behavior. Told from an experimental physicist's perspective, it forgoes mathematical complexity, using instead particularly accessible figures and apt analogies. In addition to the story of quarks and leptons, which are regarded as well-accepted fact, the author (who is a leading researcher at one of the world's highest-energy particle physics laboratories) also discusses mysteries at both the experimental and theoretical frontiers, before tying it all together with the exciting field of cosmology and indeed the birth of the universe itself.

The God Equation

By Michio Kaku,

Book cover of The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything

In the book Reality is Not What It Seems, Carlo Rovelli exhorts us to “Stop dreaming of new fields and strange particles; supplementary dimensions, other symmetries, parallel universes, strings, and whatever else.” Oh, but I wanted to dream, and Michio Kaku always takes me on such a fun ride! I loved Kaku’s The Future of the Mind, which inspired me as I wrote my own science fiction novel. So I turned to him again when I wanted to learn more about string theory, the competing theory to Rovelli’s loop quantum gravity and Kaku’s own area of expertise. It was well worth it. At least now I can plumb the allure of that symmetry, the wonder of those parallel worlds, and the fullness of those eleven dimensions—even if I may never see them proven out in my lifetime.


Who am I?

As a science fiction author, reading excellent science nonfiction is like taking my mind on a trip to an unknown land, there to wander, sightsee, and reimagine my own fictional plots. During the past few years of COVID-restricted isolation, these books have replaced travel as a source of mind-expanding inspiration, affording me a refuge from the tempest of current events and leaving my brain churning with visions of future worlds. The choices below reflect a common thread: each is written or edited by an expert in the field, and the authors possess that rare combination of deep knowledge and the ability to communicate it in an engaging way.


I wrote...

The Mother Code

By Carole Stivers,

Book cover of The Mother Code

What is my book about?

In the year 2054, a boy named Kai is born alone in America’s desert Southwest, his only companion his mother—a super-soldier robot. The Mother Code is the story of how Kai and his Mother grow to better understand both themselves and the world that made them. It ends with a decision: Will Kai break his bond with his Mother, or fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

Big Bang

By Simon Singh,

Book cover of Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe

Where do we come from? It’s hard to come up with a bigger question. This book is a fun, illustrated read that explores the history of how we got from Creation myths and Greek philosophers to the Big Bang. But at every step of the way Dr. Singh is clear our ancestors were not idiots but rather had valid logical reasons based on what they saw to believe what they did. His easy prose, coupled with informative cartoons, is my gold standard for how to make science popular. And I learned Hubble (the astronomer, not the space telescope) once got a standing ovation at the Academy Awards! How cool is that?


Who am I?

I was of that generation of children turned on to science by reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos - plus watching the Voyager spacecraft at Jupiter on TV, seeing the 1979 total solar eclipse over my house, and having Mt St Helens erupt outside my childhood window. So, one guess what I wanted to be when I grew up? Since then, I’ve earned a PhD, used the largest telescopes on Earth, designed something driving around on Mars, written popular books, and had my science art collected by the Smithsonian. But all of that started with a single book I read as a kid. Thanks Carl.


I wrote...

Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets

By Tyler Nordgren,

Book cover of Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets

What is my book about?

Seeing a total solar eclipse is more than just “seeing”, it is a multisensory experience where the heavens literally align with you as you stand in the cold shadow of the Moon cast by a now black Sun. Imagine how profoundly upsetting it is to see day turned suddenly to tonight, especially if – unlike today – it came with no warning at all. It’s an experience that has altered history and advanced science and today drives a word-wide travel industry that in the next few years will be coming to a town, state, or country near you.

Sun Moon Earth is the story of why you need to go and what you will experience when you get yourself into the path of totality.

It Started with a Big Bang

By Floor Bal, Sebastiaan Van Doninck (illustrator),

Book cover of It Started with a Big Bang: The Origin of Earth, You and Everything Else

It Started with a Big Bang: The Origin of Earth, You and Everything Else is another picture book that covers the same territory for the very young as The Stuff of Stars. The writing is conversational and accessible. The illustrations are compelling. The two books read side by side would support and inform one another.  


Who am I?

My expertise on the origins of our universe comes out of fascination, nothing more. I am a long-time children’s writer who began my approach to this topic with awe. Just awe. In order to write The Stuff of Stars I read widely to expand my own understanding. A single line in this text can come out of hours of reading. The books I’m suggesting here, though, are not the scientific ones that informed my telling. Rather, I have searched out books that are exceptionally creative, accessible, interesting. Some are for the very young and some for those who share their learning with the very young.  


I wrote...

The Stuff of Stars

By Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff of Stars

What is my book about?

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was...nothing. But then...Bang! Stars caught fire and burned so hot that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us. Ekua Holmes’ illustrations capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

Godhead

By Joe Griffin,

Book cover of Godhead: The Brain's Big Bang

When I stumbled on the new brain model that finally explained human consciousness, it set me on a lonely journey. The model was such a simple mechanism. How could no one else have found it? Well, I wasn’t actually the only one. As I discuss in Collapse 2020, the combination of complexity and the inability of ancient communication “styles” to manage modern complexity, even with the internet, has created a modern Tower of Babel. Dr. Tyrrell envisioned the same explanation: there was a large jump in human brain ability about 20,000 years ago due to a simple biological event. But, not very many humans have it – just as only a few people have red hair or 6 fingers.


Who am I?

I was an Eagle Scout selected for the 1964 North Pole expedition, graduate of MIT with both BS and MS degrees in Aero Astro – yes, a true MIT rocket scientist. I quickly took planning roles at the “bleeding edge” of technology: missiles, nuclear power, heart pumps, DNA sequencing, telemedicine… In every case, however, the organizations were plagued by incompetence and corruption. As an individual, I interacted with activist leaders in movements for: peace, climate, social justice, ending poverty, etc. Again, incompetence and corruption. Throughout, I dug for answers into the wisdom of the classics and emerging viewpoints. Finally. All that effort paid off. I found the “big picture”! 


I wrote...

Collapse 2020 Vol. 1: Fall of the First Global Civilization

By Bruce Nappi,

Book cover of Collapse 2020 Vol. 1: Fall of the First Global Civilization

What is my book about?

Smart people can see world society falling apart. They are smart enough to understand the issues. They just need clear, simply stated, logical explanations that don’t just rehash previous explanations. Collapse 2020 is based on profound breakthrough research. It answers most of the open questions being asked today, as well as many of the greatest questions of the ages.

Readers are not going to hear these discoveries from governments, or find them in the press or academia. It would upset too many special interests. Just consider two examples: Collapse explains how human consciousness works! It shows the “singularity” has passed. If your life depended on this knowledge, wouldn’t you want to know? Well! It does! Reading the book will give you the answers.

Purchase a copy of Collapse 2020 Vol. 1.

Cosmology

By Edward R. Harrison,

Book cover of Cosmology: The Science of the Universe

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.    


Who am I?

With a PhD in astrophysics, cosmology is my day job. My research focuses upon the dark-side, the dark matter and energy that have shaped the evolution of the universe. My scientific journey began long ago with “How and Why Wonder Books”, from dinosaurs and evolution to astronomy and space exploration. I have always devoured tales about the fundamental universe, not only the immensity of the cosmos around us, but also the lives of the tiny bits-and-pieces from which matter is made. I still read a lot of popular science, especially on the history of life on Earth, and the future impact of Artificial Intelligence. 



I wrote...

A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos

By Geraint F. Lewis, Luke A. Barnes,

Book cover of A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos

What is my book about?

Over the last forty years, scientists have uncovered evidence that if the Universe had been forged with even slightly different properties, life as we know it - and life as we can imagine it - would be impossible. Join us on a journey through how we understand the Universe, from its most basic particles and forces, to planets, stars and galaxies, and back through cosmic history to the birth of the cosmos. 

A Short History of Nearly Everything

By Bill Bryson,

Book cover of A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bryson’s classic is so good, I have re-read it several times. This book sums up the history and major developments of practically ALL the sciences, geology included. Written with zest and humor, and the wide-eyed wonder of a passionately interested amateur, this book is mind-boggling in its scope. No scientist could have written it—we are all too specialized. Only an author of Bryson’s skill could have cast his net so broadly. The result is a triumph. 


Who am I?

When I first crossed the American West nearly 4 decades ago in my ’67 Chevy, it changed my life. I had never imagined mountains built of contorted rock shoved miles into the sky, faults slashing like fresh scars across the landscape, and starkly beautiful deserts where people seemed an afterthought. After many happy years of researching and exploring the West with my geology students, I knew I wanted to tell the story to a larger audience. The result has been three books: Hard Road West, Rough-Hewn Land, and Surf, Sand, and Stone. 


I wrote...

Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Book cover of Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

What is my book about?

Unfold a map of North America, and the first thing to grab your eye is the bold shift between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. In Rough-Hewn Land, Keith Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through geologic time to explore America’s most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. He places us on the outcrops, rock hammer in hand, to examine the evidence for how these rough-hewn lands came to be. We see California and its gold assembled from pieces of old ocean floor and the relentless movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. We witness the birth of the Rockies. And we investigate the violent earthquakes that continue to shape the land today. Into the West’s geologic story, Meldahl also weaves its human history, showing us how geologic forces have shaped human experience in the past and how they direct the fate of the West today.

How Did It All Start? Where Did We Come From?

By Biku Ghosh,

Book cover of How Did It All Start? Where Did We Come From?

This fascinating book presents science side by side with creation stories drawn from every part of the world. Ghosh’s scientific explanations of the origins of our universe are succinct and clear. He tells us what is known about our beginnings, what is supposed, and what we do not know and may never understand. And he lays out creation stories from many parts of the world along with information about the cultures from which those stories came. How Did It All Start? is perfect for older children or for adults who want to deepen their understanding of both the science and the myths that surround our beginnings.


Who am I?

My expertise on the origins of our universe comes out of fascination, nothing more. I am a long-time children’s writer who began my approach to this topic with awe. Just awe. In order to write The Stuff of Stars I read widely to expand my own understanding. A single line in this text can come out of hours of reading. The books I’m suggesting here, though, are not the scientific ones that informed my telling. Rather, I have searched out books that are exceptionally creative, accessible, interesting. Some are for the very young and some for those who share their learning with the very young.  


I wrote...

The Stuff of Stars

By Marion Dane Bauer, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff of Stars

What is my book about?

Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was...nothing. But then...Bang! Stars caught fire and burned so hot that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us. Ekua Holmes’ illustrations capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

Big History

By Cynthia Stokes Brown,

Book cover of Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present

This one squeezes a lot into 248 reader-friendly pages. It combines the Big History approach with the emphasis on connections that world historians typically admire. But it is mainly a human history: by page 38 humans are emerging, and from that point on the evolution of the Universe and life on earth are in the rear-view mirror. Also very readable.


Who am I?

I’m a historian who wants to understand the big picture as best I can. And while occasionally I can clear my schedule enough to read a 1,000pp book, realistically that won’t happen often so I am always on the alert for short books that aim to provide what I am looking for: a coherent vision of the whole of human history. That’s asking a lot of an author, but these five do it well.


I wrote...

The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

By J.R. McNeill, William H. McNeill,

Book cover of The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

What is my book about?

The Human Web compresses the story of humankind into 324 pages, emphasizing the connections among cultures.  Connections might mean trade, cultural exchanges, warfare, disease transmission or almost anything, intentional or unintentional. But connections were not random. They followed patterns, so that the world for at least 5,000 years has been organized in webs of interaction. And in the last 500 years, a global web has taken shape that now enmeshes almost everyone on earth. I wrote this book together with my father, which made it a better book, but is an experience I would not recommend as it can test family harmony. It has two separate conclusions, one by each author, because we thought we could not agree on what it all meant.

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