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About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang [Hardcover]

Adam Frank
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 27 2011 1439169594 978-1439169599
The Big Bang is all but dead, and we do not yet know what will replace it. Our universe’s “beginning” is at an end. What does this have to do with us here on Earth? Our lives are about to be dramatically shaken again—as altered as they were with the invention of the clock, the steam engine, the railroad, the radio and the Internet.

In The End of the Beginning, Adam Frank explains how the texture of our lives changes along with our understanding of the universe’s origin. Since we awoke to self-consciousness fifty thousand years ago, our lived experience of time—from hunting and gathering to the development of agriculture to the industrial revolution to the invention of Outlook calendars—has been transformed and rebuilt many times. But the latest theories in cosmology— time with no beginning, parallel universes, eternal inflation—are about to send us in a new direction.

Time is both our grandest and most intimate conception of the universe. Many books tell the story, recounting the progress of scientific cosmology. Frank tells the story of humanity’s deepest question— when and how did everything begin?—alongside the story of how human beings have experienced time. He looks at the way our engagement with the world— our inventions, our habits and more—has allowed us to discover the nature of the universe and how those discoveries, in turn, inform our daily experience.

This astounding book will change the way we think about time and how it affects our lives.


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Review

"'Time' is the most used noun in the English language, yet we still don't really understand it. Adam Frank tells the fascinating story of how humans have struggled to make sense of time, especially in the context of the universe around us. From prehistory to the Enlightenment, through Einstein and on to the multiverse, this is a rich and inspiring tour through some of the biggest ideas that have ever been thought." (Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time)

“An eloquent book.” (Nature)

“A fascinating and comprehensive survey of how technology - from farming to railways to telegraphy to the internet - has changed our everyday concept of time. [Frank] is excellent at showing how our ideas of human and cosmic time have evolved hand-in-hand… Frank's thesis that our notions of cosmic and human time are braided together is compelling.” (New Scientist)

"A phenomenal blend of science and cultural history.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

"Frank (astrophysics, Univ. of Rochester; The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate), cofounder of NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog and frequent contributor to Discover and Astronomy magazines, here endeavors to reconstruct our understanding of time—both what he calls human time and cosmological time—with the contention that we are poised for a new definition or experience of time. He begins by ushering readers from the prehistoric to the modern era, showing how the cycles of nature and the sky became integrated into human culture over time. Next, he discusses cosmological time and lays out his proposal for a new “order” of time. The narrative is punctuated with vignettes, some of them amusing, designed to highlight and enrich various points of the narrative. VERDICT This will fascinate anyone curious about the nexus of astronomy and history and, of course, time. Recommended."
(Library Journal)

"University of Rochester astrophysics professor Adam Frank explains how our experience of time has been repeatedly rejiggered throughout the millennia. Archaeological evidence of ancient lifestyles and routines indicates that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers “lived through time as an unbroken whole,” he writes. But once humans settled down to farm, that changed. “The farmer lived within a time marked by daily rounds of animal husbandry, home maintenance, and village life.” Then came the clock, then the industrial punch clock and then synchronized time, which further altered how human beings perceived, used and organized the moments of a day. All the while, these changing notions of time altered how people understood the cosmos. Theories about the beginning of time gradually shifted from a mythological Eden to the universe-generating big bang. Frank ponders fresh ideas in cosmology, such as string theory and the multi-verse, and how the human perception of time will change in the future." (Washington Post)

“This one is a must-read! ...Culture of Science regulars are going to love About Time. The book does a wonderful job weaving together the story of human history and time in the context of the universe. From the Big Bang to the Renaissance to cell phones to the multiverse, he takes extremely complex ideas and makes them easily digestible, endlessly fascinating, and fun. About Time will make you think. And be assured, you’ll find yourself revisiting chapters again with new questions as you continue. It may even change the way way you perceive your place in the world.” (Culture of Science)

About the Author

Adam Frank is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester and a regular contributor to Discover and Astronomy magazines. He has also written for Scientific American and many other publications and is the co-founder of NPR's 13:7 Cosmos & Culture blog. He was a Hubble Fellow and is the recipient of an American Astronomical Society Prize for his scientific writing.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Regnal
Format:Hardcover
Adam Frank created little treasure, comparable to Coming of Age in the Milky Way! His book is soo much approachable and pleasant, it may be read by high school students, seniors and anybody in between.
This is history of us, humans, our evolution in science and culture. Cosmology is a large part, but we learn about applied science as well, how it evolved with or without religious influences. Author presents, without tedious details, importance and concepts of the TIME and its measurement on Earth (yes, not long time ago people did not know what is a wrist watch !), starting from the first 15 0000 years bone having distinct pattern of engravings recording lunar cycles, to Vilenkin and Penrose cosmological speculations. Ascent of applied science is not omitted, this makes the book realy interesting. I have read many good books about history of science/cosmology..they are usually demanding and require some rest. This one will not tire anybody...take my word for it.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book Worthy of Your "Time" Jan. 30 2012
By Book Shark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang by Adam Frank

"About Time" is the interesting book about time, both cosmic and human and how they relate to each other. Astrophysicist Adam Frank takes us on a journey of the human quest to find out what happened at that very moment of creation at the beginning of the Big Bang. He provides us with an understanding of how we got to the Big Bang and a provocative look at how cosmology has evolved and the looming alternatives. This 432-page book is composed of the following twelve chapters: 1. Talking Sky, Working Stone and Living Field, 2. The City, the Cycle and the Epicycle, 3. The Clock, the Bell Tower and the Spheres of God, 4. Cosmic Machines, Illuminated Night and the Factory Clock, 5. The Telegraph, the Electric Clock and the Block Universe, 6. The Expanding Universe, Radio Hours and Washing Machine Time, 7. The Big Bang and a New Armageddon, 8. Inflation, Cell Phones and the Outlook Universe, 9. Wheels Within Wheels: Cyclic Universes and the Challenge of Quantum Gravity, 10. Ever-Changing Eternities: The Promise and Perils of a Multiverse, 11. Giving Up the Ghost: The End of Beginning and the End of Time, and 12. In the Fields of Learning Grass.

Positives:
1. Fantastic book for the laymen. Complex themes that is accessible to the masses.
2. Fascinating topic of cosmology in the hands of an educator.
3. Excellent format. The author introduces each chapter with an amusing vignette and proceeds to his narration.
4. Elegant prose that at times makes you forget that you are reading a science book about cosmology. Science writing at its best.
5. Great use of charts and illustrations.
6. The author was fair and even handed. Very respectful and professional tone.
7. The holy grail of physics.
8. This whole book revolves around our conception of time and how it relates to the cosmos. A historical look at time and how the concept has evolved.
9. An interesting look at inventions over time and how it impacted our lives. The great inventors behind them.
10. How myths relate to the cosmos.
11. The most critical result of urban revolution.
12. How calendars and explicit divisions of the day emerged and how it evolved.
13. The wonderful history of Greece and how it is pivotal in the interlocking narratives of human and cosmic time. Great stuff.
14. Great tidbits of knowledge throughout. As an example, find out what book became the astronomy standard textbook for more than a millennium.
15. The difference between creation myths and no-creations myths.
16. The key five cosmological questions.
17. How cosmological thinking was limited by the Church.
18. The invention of the clock.
19. How Galileo confirmed the Copernican model.
20. The great Isaac Newton.
21. How transoceanic commerce drove the need to precision...latitude and longitude.
22. A practical look at thermodynamics.
23. The ever-fascinating Albert Einstein. Where he was right and where he was wrong.
24. The transformation of cosmology from a quasi-philosophical speculation to one grounded on science.
25. The great discovery from Hubble and Humason.
26. Quantum mechanics...I keep learning more and more.
27. The history of the Big Bang cosmology. The three unassailable pillars of evidence. Excellent!
28. The inception of NASA. Communication satellites.
29. A fascinating look at the early universe.
30. How technology impacted our lives: email, computers, appliances, tech gadgets (GPS), etc...
31. Dark matter and dark energy.
32. A great accessible discussion of the various alternative explanations for the question of "before" the Big Bang: brane-world cosmologies, eternal inflation, multiverses, string theory landscapes, loop quantum cosmologies. The strength of this book.
33. Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)...enlighten me.
34. The Anthropic Principle and why it drives scientists.
35. This author does not hesitate to present radical ideas and lets us know what the scientific community feels about it. Many examples.
36. The radical concepts of time.
37. Quantum cosmology.
38. Links and excellent bibliography.

Negatives:
1. A chart summarizing the various cosmological theories would have added much value. The main scientists behind them and findings that either confirm or contradict the cosmology in question.
2. This is a very ambitious book that covers many topics of interest and in doing so of course will treat some topics with more rigor than others.
3. The author does a wonderful job of making such complex topics accessible but might disappoint those expecting a more in depth analysis.
4. I would have liked a little more conviction or perhaps a clearer explanation of where the consensus of the scientific community currently is. Is there a difference among the science fields? Perhaps I missed that but I think the author could have at least tied a bow of where we stand today regardless of all the various attempts to explain the "before" of the Big Bang.

In summary, this is an excellent book for all us cosmologists-want- a-be who want to learn more about our universe without being blown away by the complexity of it. Astrophysicist Adam Frank does a great job of educating the reader while skillfully moving the narration forward. A journey that interweaves its way proficiently through time as it relates to the cosmos. A well written science book that is worthy of your time!
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Popular Science Gem Nov. 18 2011
By Book Fanatic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The farther I got into this book the more I loved it. The author Adam Frank has done a remarkable job of creating an interesting narrative that explains the history of cosmology up to the very latest theories. It is extremely accessable to lay readers but not dumbed down at all. I simply loved it. The discussion of time and how culture has created our experience of it over the last 10,000 years or so is weaved into all this cosmology. The main theme of the book is that they can't be separated.

I have a hard time imagining anyone interested in science, cosmology, time, or history not enjoying this book. Very highly recommended with both thumbs up.
45 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of interest, but overall frustrating and disappointing Jan. 26 2012
By Lyle Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Astrophysicist Adam Frank tries to offer a grand tour of physics, history, cultural analysis, and psychology. He argues that throughout humanity's existence there has been a complex (and still overlooked) relationship among cosmology (mythic or scientific), cultural change, time-constrained "material engagement" with the physical world, and our experience and conception of time. The best aspects of About Time are the many interesting details and summaries Frank gives of everything from prehistoric timekeeping to medieval urbanization to time zones to email to, of course, contemporary cosmological theorizing. Unfortunately the overarching project is vague and over-ambitious, and we never get a persuasive or even particularly clear account of the big idea that is supposed to run through these many discussions. About Time deserves 3/5 because it is interesting and worth reading, but it's also a frustrating and disappointing book. Since it is well praised by other reviews here, I will focus on a few criticisms.

Frank makes some very provocative claims that are neither explicated nor defended with the rigour they demand. Here is one from the prologue: "You feel time in a way that nobody did a thousand years ago" (xiv). This is quite radical. If it means anything like what it appears to mean - something about the phenomenology of temporal lapse - it is wildly unsupported by the observations Frank makes about the modern emergence of a globally and precisely specified time, and he makes no contact with any of the large literature on temporal phenomenology. This and similar claims about the "experience of time" are quite vague, and key notions seem to be slippery. A full two thirds of the way through the book, we get this clarification: "time as it is lived can be defined as what we do and how we go about doing it" (212). Not "by" what we do, mind you - "as" what we do. Without some very serious argument, this sort of move looks at best like a bait-and-switch.

Many of Frank's wide-ranging discussions do not appear to come from any particularly deep learning. He has read a handful of semi-popular titles by people like Armstrong (religion), Mithen (human evolution and evolutionary psychology), Kragh (history of cosmology), Galison (Einstein), and the contemporary popularizers of theoretical physics, and he draws on these sources in a fairly shallow way. Later chapters abandon his pattern of telling roughly parallel stories about cosmology and culture/technology and simply summarize the books of others (e.g. Steinhardt and Turok's and Sean Carroll's books, each of which is better than this one). His musings on prehistory verge into poetry in a places rather than serious empirical claims, and he drops in some impressive-sounding but unhelpful philosophical references. For instance, after sliding from an historical claim about how the abstract concept of time emerged to the amazing claim that "time was a creation of culture", he invokes the "embodied mind" (17) with an endnote endorsing an early (1991) book in this movement within the philosophy of cognitive science. But he does nothing to relate any of that complex literature to his remarks about cultural innovation driven by "material engagement" (his fancy way of saying "people doing stuff with stuff").

The book claims a sense of urgency with its suggestion that the current crop of proposals conceiving the Big Bang as an event within an eternal multiverse (rather than as an absolute beginning) presage/indicate/provoke some kind of major cultural transition. But this is also obscure. Is the transition to be the culmination of the GPS revolution's "profound and ubiquitous acceleration of human culture" (237)? Who knows? We're not told what "acceleration" means in this context or how it is measured, or how, for example, the GPS system's use of highly advanced clocks to compute position is supposed to affect the temporal experience or concepts of users. Our species is, however, at the "end of our own beginning" (another undefined notion) and "there can be no doubt that whatever comes next will have to involve new inventions in time" (319-20). Frank gropes around to pull something profound out of these stories of cosmology, culture, and time, and he can barely even assert, never mind defend, his grandest claims in any substantive way.

My admittedly harsh criticisms have been intended to counterbalance some of the excessive praise this book has received. As I say above, I do think it is interesting and worth reading for some of its details. Unfortunately it is hard to take its larger aspirations very seriously.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather sloppy Feb. 9 2013
By David Auerbach - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to agree with Lyle Crawford's review. I was quite disappointed by the book. Frank ends up focusing on cosmology in general just as much as on time and conceptions of time, and honestly, he's better on cosmology. When talking about culture, he not only seems not particularly well-informed (like someone who's only read the other popular books on the subject), but he also doesn't even sound that interested, as though he wanted to write a book just on his own work but was pressed into adding some "human interest" material.

Though Frank promises a look at the history of conceptions of time, he ends up repeating a lot of single-source opinions as fact (the prehistoric anthropology section at the beginning of the book is especially weak this way), and on the facts themselves, he doesn't seem to have made too much of an effort to get familiar with the sources. Since the job of a popularizer is to know the subject in and out and just tell you the best bits, this doesn't give me much faith in his skills.

I know a fair bit about the early modern period, and Frank treats Kepler before he treats Galileo, calling Galileo the final step in the Copernican revolution. In fact, Kepler and Galileo were contemporaries, and Kepler was rather a fan of the far more famous Galileo. Galileo rejected Kepler's ellipses (or else didn't even pay attention to them), and Kepler's three laws wouldn't take hold until after Kepler's death. Moreover, Frank seems to think it's odd that Kepler didn't entertain the idea of an infinite cosmos--but in those pre-Newton days, the intellectual infrastructure was a mess. It's amazing that those people got *anything* right.

Frank also seems to think that Copernicus was anomalous because his theory was based on aesthetics rather than on measurable improvements on the existing model. The entire 20th century history/philosophy of science--from Koyre to Popper to Kuhn and beyond--has established that Copernicus' theoretical revolution is far more the rule than the exception. Major shifts in science aren't made through careful observation and induction, but by creative thinking, chance accidents, and a slow and messy process of reconciliation and evaluation. But Frank's flippant remarks seem just to indicate a lack of interest on his part.

There's still good info in the book, but I'm afraid that for the historical material, one would be better served by John North's Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology for a much more informed look at what Frank teaches. For the contemporary stuff, the usual suspects like Brian Greene apply.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Phaeolitic observations to XXI century models. Nov. 3 2011
By Regnal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Adam Frank created little treasure, comparable to Coming of Age in the Milky Way! His book is soo much approachable and pleasant, it may be read by high school students, seniors and anybody in between.
This is history of us, humans, our evolution in science and culture. Cosmology is a large part, but we learn about applied science as well, how it evolved with or without religious influences. Author presents, without tedious details, importance and concepts of the TIME and its measurement (yes, not long time ago people did not know what is a wristwatch !), starting from the 15 0000 years old bone having distinct pattern of engravings recording lunar cycles, to Steinhardt/Turok and Linde/Vilenkin speculations about endless or eternal Universe. First time I have learned about calculated proposition, or rather 'timeless' modification of the Vilenkin's eternal inflation. This modification (worked out in 2004 by Sean Carroll and Jennifer Chen)solves in certain way 'arrow of time' dilemma. Where physics ends and metaphysics enters? - author presents few scientists,'thinkers outside the box' and how they approach existence (or not) of time - very interesting final part of the book. Ascent of applied science is not omitted, this makes the book even more interesting: industrial revolution resulting in home appliances, railroads, telegraph -radio, nuclear era, birth of computer and e-communication.."the enigmatic entanglement between cosmic and social time...space and time redefined by machines". I have read many good books about history of science/cosmology..they are usually demanding and require some rest. This one will not tire anybody...take my word for it.
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