Simon & Schuster
January 1, 1997
From the world-acclaimed author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way comes this delightfully engrossing, comprehensive, and comprehensible report on how science today envisions the universe as a whole.
Timothy Ferris begins The Whole Shebang with a succinct account of how we have come to know what we know about the universe. Then he explains the meaning behind the exciting new developments that have put cosmology in the headlines – including the discovery of planets orbiting stars other than our sun, glimpses through the Hubble Space Telescope of how the universe looked when it was only a fraction of its present age, and the detection of structure in relic radiation from the big bang that may hint at the mechanisms of genesis.
Ferris provides a lucid, non-technical overview of current research and a forecast of where cosmological theory is likely to go in the twenty-first century. A master analogist, he presents accessible explanations of relativity and quantum physics, “inflationary” models indicating that the universe is much larger than had been thought, and “string” theories that portray all matter as made of space.
The centerpiece of The Whole Shebang is a visionary account of near-future science, in which light is shed on the possibility that our universe is one among many universes, each with different physical laws and differing prospects for the emergence of life.
The Whole Shebang explores questions that have occurred to even casual readers who are curious about nature on the largest scales: What does it mean to say that the universe is “expanding,” or that space is “curved”? How could there have been an “origin” of the universe; what happened “before”? Why is quantum uncertainty so puzzling to many scientists, and why do some regard it as one of the most important riddles of all time? Is life in accident, or is the cosmos somehow set up to favor the advent of life?
Written with the literary flair that earned Ferris the accolade “the greatest science writer in the world,” The Whole Shebang interweaves probing scientific explication, lyrical descriptions, and finely honed profiles of the lives and personalities of the scientists and philosophers who have contributed to human understanding of the cosmos. Above all, it demonstrates that for all its abstractions, cosmology – the scientific study of the universe as a whole – is a very human activity whose theories and observations must ultimately answer to the human mind.
Timothy Ferris is the bestselling author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way (winner of the American Institute of Physics Prize) and The Mind’s Sky (named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times), among others. An emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley, he lives in San Francisco.