Synopses & Reviews
Is the universe infinite, or is it just really big? Does nature abhor infinity? In startling and beautiful prose, Janna Levin's diary of unsent letters to her mother describes what we know about the shape and extent of the universe, about its beginning and its end. She grants the uninitiated access to the astounding findings of contemporary theoretical physics and makes tangible the contours of space and time--those very real curves along which apples fall and planets orbit.
Levin guides the reader through the observations and thought-experiments that have enabled physicists to begin charting the universe. She introduces the cosmic archaeology that makes sense of the pattern of hot spots left over from the big bang, a pursuit on the verge of discovering the shape of space itself. And she explains the topology and the geometry of the universe now coming into focus--a strange map of space full of black holes, chaotic flows, time warps, and invisible strings. Levin advances the controversial idea that this map is edgeless but finite--that the universe is huge but not unending--a radical revelation that would provide the ultimate twist to the Copernican revolution by locating our precise position in the cosmos.
As she recounts our increasingly rewarding attempt to know the universe, Levin tells her personal story as a scientist isolated by her growing knowledge. This book is her remarkable effort to reach across the distance of that knowledge and share what she knows with family and friends--and with us. Highly personal and utterly original, this physicist's diary is a breathtaking contemplation of our deep connection with the universe and our aspirations to comprehend it.
"Science as it is lived....[Levins] book is a gift to those people who want to think big but came to a screeching halt about two dozen pages into...A Brief History of Time." Discover
"Levin unpacks the technicalities with a skill honed from giving many lectures....A book to be applauded." The Scotsman
"Lovely and utterly original....Mixing lucid arguments with anecdotes and personal experiences, Levin makes it easy to understand seemingly complicated subjects such as transfinite arithmetic, naked singularities and compact spaces....A marvelous diary that makes a reader long to meet the author." American Scientist
"[Levin] covers...fascinating ground....She writes passages that may make you either feel claustrophobic for only living in three visible dimensions or see the night sky in an entirely new way." Baltimore City Paper
From a brilliant and charismatic physicist comes this remarkably lucid tour of the cosmos that mingles engaging personal memoir with a stimulating account of her pioneering investigations.
Is the universe infinite or just really big?
With this question, the gifted young cosmologist Janna Levin not only announces the central theme of her intriguing and controversial new book but establishes herself as one of the most direct and unorthodox voices in contemporary science. For even as she sets out to determine how big "really big" may be, Levin gives us an intimate look at the day-to-day life of a globe-trotting physicist, complete with jet lag and romantic disturbances.
Nimbly synthesizing geometry, topology, chaos and string theories, Levin shows how the pattern of hot and cold spots left over from the big bang may one day reveal the size and shape of the cosmos. She does so with such originality, lucidity and even poetry that How the Universe Got Its Spots becomes a thrilling and deeply personal communication between a scientist and the lay reader.
"Although we're tantalizingly close to the answer, we still don't know if our universe is infinite or finite. Janna Levin, one of the bright young stars on the interface between topology (the study of shapes) and cosmology, describes her efforts to look for the signatures of a finite universe and offers the reader a unique insight into her life and inner thoughts."--David Spergel, Princeton University
"Janna Levin is one of the most talented and original of the young cosmologists, and her book combines a tour of the frontiers of cosmology with an intimate account of her struggles to reconcile the demands of a scientific career with the demands of the heart. No other scientist has yet had the courage to write such an honest and personal account of what it is like to live the life of a scientist."--Lee Smolin, author of The Life of the Cosmos and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity
"This is a totally charming piece of work. A memoir of one very talented young woman, it layers her personal odyssey and bits of science like an exotic piece of intellectual/personal pastry. The attitude toward the subject is that of the artist: feelings matter, pictures matter, intuitions matter. Levin's book is a wonderful read that introduces current science from an odd angle in a lively, accessible, and engaging fashion. I have never read a book like it."--Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Cambridge University
Table of Contents
1. Is the universe infinite or is it just really big? 1
2. Infinity 5
3. Newton, 300 years and Einstein 16
4. Special relativity 23
5. General relativity 37
6. Quantum chance and choice 50
7. Death and black holes 63
8. Life and the big bang 79
9. Beyond Einstein 99
10. Adventures in Flatland and hyperspace 104
11. Topology: links, locks, loops 115
12. Through the looking glass 131
13. Wonderland in 3D 141
14. Mirrors in the sky 151
15. How the universe got its spots 162
16. The ultimate prediction 178
17. Scars of creation 185
18. The shape of things to come 194