The twentieth century gave us two great theories of physics. The general theory of relativity describes the behavior of very large things, and quantum theory the behavior of very small things. In this landmark book, John Gribbin—one of the best-known science writers of the past thirty years—presents his own version of the Holy Grail of physics, the search that has been going on for decades to find a unified “Theory of Everything” that combines these ideas into one mathematical package, a single equation that could be printed on a T-shirt, containing the answer to life, the Universe, and everything. With his inimitable mixture of science, history, and biography, Gribbin shows how—despite skepticism among many physicists—these two great theories are very compatible, and point to a deep truth about the nature of our existence. The answer lies, intriguingly, with the age of the universe: 13.8 billion years.
Acclaimed science writer Gribbin (Einstein's Masterwork), a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex, delivers a lively and accessible look at how astronomers determined the age of our universe. Popular science titles tend to cover the same ground from similar perspectives, but Gribbin takes a fresh angle by working from two different directions: the physics of the very small (quantum theory) and the physics of the very large (Einstein's general relativity). The development of quantum theory in the early 20th century provided the tools to work out how stars produce energy, how they evolve, and how to calculate how old they are. Then, switching tracks, Gribbin shows how determining stellar distances led to the realization that our universe is expanding. Einstein's general theory of relativity let scientists give shape to the universe and determine both how it evolved and its age. Along the way, Gribbin intrigues with background details on such figures as the ground-breaking women astronomers Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Cecilia Payne, crack Mt. Wilson observer Milton Humason, and cosmologist Thomas Gold, who found cosmic inspiration in a horror film. Readers who are weary of typical pop science books will find themselves highly entertained.