A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2020
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY * THE WASHINGTON POST * THE ECONOMIST * NEW SCIENTIST * PUBLISHERS WEEKLY * THE GUARDIAN
From one of the most dynamic rising stars in astrophysics, an “engrossing, elegant” (The New York Times) look at five ways the universe could end, and the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important concepts in cosmology.
We know the universe had a beginning. With the Big Bang, it expanded from a state of unimaginable density to an all-encompassing cosmic fireball to a simmering fluid of matter and energy, laying down the seeds for everything from black holes to one rocky planet orbiting a star near the edge of a spiral galaxy that happened to develop life as we know it. But what happens to the universe at the end of the story? And what does it mean for us now?
Dr. Katie Mack has been contemplating these questions since she was a young student, when her astronomy professor informed her the universe could end at any moment, in an instant. This revelation set her on the path toward theoretical astrophysics. Now, with lively wit and humor, she takes us on a mind-bending tour through five of the cosmos’s possible finales: the Big Crunch, Heat Death, the Big Rip, Vacuum Decay (the one that could happen at any moment!), and the Bounce. Guiding us through cutting-edge science and major concepts in quantum mechanics, cosmology, string theory, and much more, The End of Everything is a wildly fun, surprisingly upbeat ride to the farthest reaches of all that we know.
Mack, a theoretical astrophysicist who has written for Scientific American and Cosmos, debuts with a fascinating tour of the cosmic forces quantum vacuums, dark matter, dark energy, entropy, and gravitation among them that may conspire to end the universe. Excelling at providing just enough scientific detail, Mack sets the scene with an exceptionally lucid history of the universe from the big bang to the present. As to how the end might occur, Mack reveals a surprising number of competing theories, including that the mysterious dark energy will rip the cosmos apart, or, conversely, that the universe will collapse in on itself. In the currently most favored theory, it will be the victim of entropy, a long, cold demise paradoxically named "heat death," and in another scenario, which could happen at any moment, the all-pervading Higgs energy field will become unstable. (In this eventuality, Mack is careful to assure readers, the process will be painless and instantaneous.) In outlining the reasoning behind each theory, she also acknowledges opposing arguments and provides context for how astrophysicists found the supporting data. Despite the seemingly frightening topic, Mack's endlessly entertaining survey is infused with a palpable love of her subject, and will transmit to readers the same joy she finds in exploring the wide and fascinating universe.