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Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Scientific Quest for the Secret of the…

by Dennis Overbye

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227687,114 (4.08)2
Cosmologists search for the origin and destiny of the universe.

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This is a great topic both as science and for the lives of scientists, but I wish someone else had written it. Overbye's prose often reaches for the dramatic. His writing is heavy with imagery and metaphor. Some passages read well but can't be trusted for details. For example, pp19-20

"Hubble observed steadily in April [1949], clicking off photographic plates of the galaxies brought to new full-blooded starry brilliance by the giant mirror." The plates are long exposures, as Overbye knows. "Clicking off" implies something more like briefly open camera shutter. ( )
  bgeoghegan | Oct 1, 2017 |
One of the most interesting and thought provoking books I've read Ina very long time. And this review is being written 22 years after my first reading. For those fascinated by science - not just the answers, but the search, the personalities and the process that all happens in the background, this is a must read. You won't be disappointed. ( )
  DaveCapp | Oct 22, 2014 |
Now out-of-date (1987) description of then-current controversies in cosmology with a good dose of particle physics; focused on not-very-interesting Allan Sandage (Hubble's protégé); very realistic view of academic competition
  FKarr | Apr 14, 2013 |
First published in 1991 and now a little dated, but easily one of the best accounts of the pre dark matter / dark energy era in cosmology around. Overbye (currently Deputy Science Editor of The New York Times) is a former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope, and his familiarity with his subject matter shows. Lonely Hearts is based on the career of Allan Sandage, who Overbye met in 1985 and subsequently interviewed many times. Its central theme is the debate over the Hubble constant – the Hubble Wars – in which Sandage is usually identified as leading the school of thought favouring a closed Universe. Sandage constantly weaves in and out of the narrative, interacting with and arguing with just about every other leading astronomer of the latter 20th century. Beatrice Tinsley and her Gang of Four (J Richard Gott, Jim Gunn, Dave Schramm and Tinsley) who were the first to argue strongly for an unbound Universe merit a sympathetic chapter, but just about every other name you are likely to have heard is in there too.
Overbye’s Prologue acknowledges the help of Sandage, Stephen Hawking, John Wheeler, Schramm, Gustav Tamman, Jim Peebles, Vera Rubin, Alan Guth, Gunn, John Huchra, and Kip Thorne, to name only a few, and all of these merit at least a vignette and sometimes a chapter. As a who’s who of the people who laid the foundations of modern cosmology, Lonely Hearts is engaging, thorough, and very human.
It’s hard to pick a favourite from the many stories and anecdotes with which Lonely Hearts abounds, but one from the Prologue particularly tickled my fancy, and gives the flavour of the book as well as any. Overbye recounts the story of Huston Smith, a US religious scholar who was granted an audience with the Dalai Lama while travelling through India. On discovering that Smith had some knowledge of astronomy, the Dalai Lama immediately abandoned formality and pressed Smith to give him the latest news on the debate currently raging over the age and origin of the Universe. Had there been a Big Bang or was the Steady State theory the current favourite? Smith told him that at that time (c. 1960) the jury was still out, but the evidence seemed to be shifting in favour of the Big Bang. The Dalai Lama nodded and smiled ironically. “Of course”, he said, “we have a position on that”.
1 vote unwinm | Apr 23, 2009 |
This is about the human side of pioneering astronomy; about the excitement and imagination that accompany a project. It makes for exciting reading and is based on real popple in real projects. ( )
  billsearth | Aug 27, 2008 |
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Cosmologists search for the origin and destiny of the universe.

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La discussione sull’origine dell’universo è oggi aperta e viva come non mai. Dalle frontiere del cosmo ci giungono nuovi dati che sembrano condannare alcune teorie e dimostrare la verità di altre. Quali sono esattamente le teorie in gioco e chi sono i giocatori? Questo libro racconta che cos’è la grande ricerca cosmologica della seconda metà del ventesimo secolo e che cosa si prova a parteciparvi! È la storia di uomini e di donne armati di computer, di acceleratori di particelle, di blocchi di vetro alluminizzato pesanti dieci tonnellate, di radiotelescopi e soprattutto di molto orgoglio e senso dell’umorismo, che si inoltrano nella più straordinaria avventura intellettuale nella storia dell’uomo. Dalla loro ricerca sono nate le teorie dei quasar, dei buchi neri, della materia oscura, dello spazio-tempo a dieci dimensioni, delle forze misteriose che hanno governato il primo istante del tempo — ma ne sono scaturiti anche gloria e amarezza, litigi e premi Nobel.
Nel libro compaiono Stephen Hawking, il successore di Newton la cui immensa creatività scientifica non è scalfita dalla terribile malattia; Jakov Zel’dovic, che si mise a progettare la bomba H sovietica munito solo di una licenza liceale; Alan Guth, assurto a improvvisa gloria per la scoperta di un ostacolo alla teoria dei Big Bang; il leggendario Allan Sandage e moltissimi altri.
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