The best cosmology books

13 authors have picked their favorite books about cosmology and why they recommend each book.

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The Little Book of Cosmology

By Lyman Page,

Book cover of The Little Book of Cosmology

The most striking thing about the night sky is that it is mostly black. But if your eyes, instead of seeing visible light, could see a type of invisible light known as microwaves, it would be white. The entire Universe is glowing with the “afterglow” of the big bang fireball. Greatly cooled by the expansion of the universe in the past 13.82 billion years, the “cosmic background radiation” now consists of low-energy radio waves, principally microwaves.

Imprinted on this radiation is a “baby photo” of the universe when it was a mere 400,000 years old and matter was beginning the long process of clumping under gravity that would culminate in galaxies such as our own Milky Way. From that photo can be extracted the numbers that define our Universe, from its age of 13.82 billion years to the fact that 70 percent of cosmic mass-energy is in the form of…


Who am I?

Formerly a radio astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Marcus Chown is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster. His popular books include 'The Ascent of Gravity' – The Sunday Times Science Book of the Year; Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand; Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You; and Solar System for iPad, winner of The Bookseller Digital Innovation of the Year.


I wrote...

The Ascent of Gravity

By Marcus Chown,

Book cover of The Ascent of Gravity

What is my book about?

Gravity is the weakest force in the everyday world yet it is the strongest force in the universe. It was the first force to be recognized and described yet it is the least understood. It is a "force" that keeps your feet on the ground yet no such force actually exists. Gravity, to steal the words of Winston Churchill, is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." And penetrating that enigma promises to answer the biggest questions in science: what is space? What is time? What is the universe? And where did it all come from?

Award-winning writer Marcus Chown takes us on an unforgettable journey from the recognition of the "force" of gravity in 1666 to the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015. And, as we stand on the brink of a seismic revolution in our worldview, he brings us up to speed on the greatest challenge ever to confront physics.

Until the End of Time

By Brian Greene,

Book cover of Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

This book covers a dizzying array of human thought: Greene’s trademark is physics, of course – but in this wildly ambitious work, the Columbia University physicist also dives into evolution, the origins of human culture, the origins of art and music and religion – even the puzzle of consciousness and the paradox of free will. He tackles the deepest of questions – including the problem of finding “meaning” in a universe governed only by the laws of physics. Be prepared to go slow. Your brain will get a workout – but it will be worth every minute of your time.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the universe since childhood – ever since my parents took me to the countryside in rural Nova Scotia, where the stars shone with wondrous intensity. At first, I borrowed books about space and the universe from our local library for fun; now, as a full-time science writer, I read these books to stay informed about the latest ideas shaping our understanding of the cosmos. (I also read them in order to review them on BookLab, a podcast I host together with science writer Amanda Gefter.) I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!


I wrote...

In Search of Time: The History, Physics, and Philosophy of Time

By Dan Falk,

Book cover of In Search of Time: The History, Physics, and Philosophy of Time

What is my book about?

Time is at once intimately familiar and yet deeply mysterious. We say it flows like a river, yet that “flow” seems to disappear under scientific scrutiny. No wonder poets, philosophers, and physicists have grappled with the enigma of time for centuries. In Search of Time, by award-winning science journalist Dan Falk, looks at the history, physics, and philosophy of time from Aristotle to Einstein and beyond.   

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. 

The First Three Minutes

By Steven Weinberg,

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

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.


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. 

The Five Ages of the Universe

By Greg Laughlin, Fred Adams,

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

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.


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. 

The Fabric of the Cosmos

By Brian Greene,

Book cover of The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

The question "what is time" troubles not only physicists and philosophers, but also captivates every human. The Fabric of the Cosmos offers a lucid examination of time (and space) that is accessible to the layperson. The book focuses on the notion of time from a cosmological perspective and explores questions from the realm of physics and philosophy. This book offered me ways to address questions that perplex me, such as: relative time and absolute time; whether time flows; whether time has a direction; the relation between quantum mechanics and time.

Who am I?

I have time, save time, spend time, waste time, write, and teach time. I am fascinated with the question of time both as a cosmological phenomenon and as an aspect that is inseparable from our existence. I channeled this fascination into a PhD dissertation, books, and articles examining the relationship between time and human existence. But like Saint Augustine, I am still baffled by the question of time and like him: "If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it …, I do not know."


I wrote...

The Intersubjectivity of Time: Levinas and Infinite Responsibility

By Yael Lin,

Book cover of The Intersubjectivity of Time: Levinas and Infinite Responsibility

What is my book about?

The essential theme of my research is the deformalization of the notion of time,' asserted Emmanuel Levinas in a 1988 interview, toward the end of his long philosophical career. But while the notion of time is fundamental to the development of every key theme in Levinas's thought - the idea of the infinite, the issue of the alterity of the other, the face of the other, the question of our ethical relations with other people, the role of fecundity, speech and language, and radical responsibility - his view of time remains obscure.

Yael Lin's exhaustive look at Levinas's primary texts, both his philosophical writings and his writings on Judaism, brings together his various perspectives on time. Lin concludes that we can, indeed, extract a coherent and consistent conception of time from Levinas's thought, one that is distinctly political.

Space Encyclopedia

By David A. Aguilar,

Book cover of Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond

Of all the non-fiction books about space for older children, this was the one I chose to share with my son. It felt special enough to give him as a birthday gift.

I think it’s beautifully illustrated in a highly believable but dramatic way, as well as including some amazing photographic images. It’s broken down into short, manageable chapters, perfect for one planet or theme to either read alone or to share at bedtime.


Who am I?

I usually enjoy painting pictures for storybooks about nature I know, so it was a treat to depict an imaginary place that I’ve never actually seen! I was so inspired to illustrate Mary’s story about the moon, as I could focus on creating an other-worldly atmosphere, adding to the drama that could have happened anywhere. The story focuses on Molly and her family moving to the moon and includes scientific facts about how gravity would impact their everyday life. I used Mary’s knowledge as reference to underpin the imaginative side of my process. Painting the inside of a moon module enabled me to use textures, colours, and lighting in such a fun, expressive way!


I illustrated...

Molly on the Moon

By Mary Robinette Kowal, Diana Mayo (illustrator),

Book cover of Molly on the Moon

What is my book about?

Award-winning science fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal consulted with a NASA astronaut to craft her first picture book story, accurately describing how living on the moon differs from life on Earth. Beautifully illustrated by Diana Mayo, Molly on the Moon is the tale of two siblings adjusting to their new home. Inspiring and imaginative, Molly on the Moon also includes fascinating facts about the moon’s environment, revealing how the differences in gravity, temperature, and time would affect our lives.

Illustrator Diana Mayo’s art is an intriguing study in contrasts. She envisions the moon as a world that seems both strange and familiar, vast but confined, cozy yet intensely isolated. The deep blue colour palette of her mixed media images feels appropriately lunar and a little mysterious.” – Bookpage.com

Star Maker

By Olaf Stapledon,

Book cover of Star Maker

No other book has influenced me so deeply. Arthur C. Clarke wrote it is "probably the most powerful work of imagination ever written." As I now reread Star Maker, published in 1937 when I was three years old, I still find passages so profound that they send my mind into orbit. The book takes us through time and space to a future when that entire conscious cosmos yearns to meet its creator. It ends with a prophetic awareness that “the struggle of our age was brewing” and the hope that our species can make it “before the ultimate darkness.”


Who am I?

My twenty books have won top awards for lifetime scholarship in American studies, science fiction, prison literature, the Vietnam war, and marine ecology. My writing is just part of my six decades as an activist for peace and justice, which made me a major target of the FBI’s operation COINTELPRO and led Stanford to fire me from my tenured professorship.  I then taught for 40 years at Rutgers University in Newark as The John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies. 


I wrote...

Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War

By Howard Bruce Franklin,

Book cover of Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War

What is my book about?

America. The 1939 World’s Fair and World War II shaped my earliest views of America. Then I worked in factory sweatshops and on tugboats amidst the wars for New York Harbor. I flew as an Arctic navigator and intelligence officer and later helped set up the Vietnam deserter network in France. Then I joined the revolutionary movement of the sixties and seventies. Crash Course is a revolutionary history of America and a meditation on Homo sapiens, the most intelligent species on planet Earth, the only known species that has figured out not one way, but two ways, to make our planet unsuitable for our continual existence: nuclear war and global warming. 

The Human Cosmos

By Jo Marchant,

Book cover of The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars

This book helped me understand the history of humans’ relationship to the sky, and how our connection to it has in a lot of ways decreased, while civilizational knowledge of what’s actually going on up there has increased. It provides both the means and the motivation for the people of the modern world to act a bit more like the people of the past.


Who am I?

I grew up intending to become an astronaut. The cosmos always felt within reach of my backyard, from where I could watch the Space Shuttle launch. As I grew up, I began to realize that the space our rockets reached was exceedingly close compared to the rest of the universe. And I became obsessed with what else was out there. I went on to study radio astronomy, fascinated by the parts of the cosmos that our senses can’t detect. After that, I became a science journalist, writing about how space influences Earth and vice versa.


I wrote...

Astronomical Mindfulness: Your Cosmic Guide to Reconnecting with the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets

By Christopher G. de Pree, Sarah Scoles,

Book cover of Astronomical Mindfulness: Your Cosmic Guide to Reconnecting with the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets

What is my book about?

Back when humans lived in communal caves and tribal encampments, we told stories about the stars. When we started sailing, we used these same pinpricks of light to estimate our own location. When we began planting, we relied on the constellations and the Sun to plant and sustain crops. crops. Yet today, most modern humans have lost this deep connection to the cosmos that was once central to our daily lives. To help us reestablish our vital connection to the heavens, Astronomical Mindfulness guides readers in using the power of the sun, moon, stars, and planets to deepen knowledge of the solar system and foster a renewed sense of presence in the universe. Filled with engaging exercises, the shows the fundamental ways our planet moves through the solar system and how these motions determine our perception of time and place.

A Brief History of Time

By Stephen Hawking,

Book cover of A Brief History of Time

I assumed for a long, long time, that any non-fiction book by extraordinarily intelligent people must be impossible to read – I guess school textbooks got me in the habit of low expectations! But this book really opened my eyes that some experts not only have a gift to understand their subject, but also have a gift to share their knowledge in an easy, compelling way. If you ever looked up at the sky and wondered Why? What? How? Go read this book. 


Who am I?

Like most people, I read a variety of topics and am interested in a lot of things. While I enjoy nearly all of what I read or see on TV, there are very few items that seem to stick with me for years and years after the fact. I really wanted to dive into the ones that have that stickiness – the ones I keep coming back to time and again. I hope to be the kind of writer that can create books that ‘sit’ with people. That they think about afterward. And maybe not everyone that reads my books will think or feel that way, but if at least one person does, then it matters. 


I wrote...

Trial By Fire

By Margarita Gakis,

Book cover of Trial By Fire

What is my book about?

Jade leads a structured life: Routine job. Caffeine addiction. No serious relationships. And now, she can spontaneously set things on fire with her mind. Well... perhaps “normal” was never in the cards for her. As she questions her own sanity and spirals out of control, a man appears on her doorstep and tells her that, like him, she’s a witch.

Pulled in all directions, her unbridled magic draws dangerous attention and Jade wonders if she’s made the worst mistake of her life by joining a coven, or if she’ll even live long enough to regret it.

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