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5.0 out of 5 stars A Walk Through Cosmology
Sir Martin Rees earned his degrees in mathematics and astronomy at the University of Cambridge. Currently he is a professor of astronomy and cosmology and was formerly director of the Institute of Astronomy. He sometimes writes articles for Scientific American and New Scientist magazines.
In this book, Before the Beginning, Dr. Rees touches on many topics of...
Published on Dec 5 2003 by Mr Tough Guy

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3.0 out of 5 stars Hi there, universe
Martin J. Rees presents us with a biography of our home, the cosmos. He shows us the coincidence that has happened for the complexity of our life to evolove on this planet. He seems also doubtful that it has happened anywhere else, but that this might be explained naturally by the multiverse, (chances are greater with more universes evolving) rather than the Anthropic...
Published on March 5 2001 by Joel Brown


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5.0 out of 5 stars A Walk Through Cosmology, Dec 5 2003
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
Sir Martin Rees earned his degrees in mathematics and astronomy at the University of Cambridge. Currently he is a professor of astronomy and cosmology and was formerly director of the Institute of Astronomy. He sometimes writes articles for Scientific American and New Scientist magazines.
In this book, Before the Beginning, Dr. Rees touches on many topics of cosmology, established theories and highly speculative subjects such as dark matter, multiverse, and superstring theory, . The book , in my opinion, is not watered-down science as one of the reviewers complains. In his introduction, Dr. Rees informs the reader that he will abstain from using references to deity(s) that lead to more copies being sold and complicated physical formulas that decrease profits. One complaint I have is that the book has no glossary section. Although Rees does describe things like quasars, lambda, and omega, white dwarfs, steady-state theory some readers may not be satisfied with the depth of definitions given within the text.
Anyone who picks up this book must read Chapter 12 "Toward Infinity: The Far Future" in which Rees explains the most likely fate of the Solar System. "In about 5 billion years the Sun will die, swelling up into a red giant, engulfing the inner planets, and vaporizing all life on Earth; it will the settle down as a slowly fading white dwarf. At about the same time the Andromeda Galaxy , already falling toward us, will merge with our own Milky Way." He also speculates as to what would happen if the universe expands forever or collapses according the Big Crunch Theory. How life will have to adopt to this new environment...
Overall, the book is a great read for an amateur interested in cosmology. However, those with no prior experience may become stressed understanding some of the concepts laid out in the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Instructive., June 27 2003
By 
Atheen "Atheen" (Mpls, MN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
Before the Beginning is one of Sir Martin Rees best endeavors in unraveling the concepts of cosmology for the average reader. As Royal Society Professor at King's College, Cambridge--succeeding Fred Hoyle to the privilege--and Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, his research spans the breadth of astrophysical research, including issues about cosmology, galaxy formation, black holes, and high energy processes like gravitational waves.
While his participation in the forefront of research gives Martin Rees eminent credibility, his ability as a writer gives him great accessibility as well. I am not really a math-physics person, although I enjoy this type of popular work on physics and cosmology and read extensively in the genre. I found this title to be thoroughly understandable. I was lost somewhat in the final chapters of the book especially "How Constant are Nature's 'Constants,'" but pulled more out of the material after rereading it a couple of times. I think that most readers of a skill level of high school and above will understand the material. Even precocious junior high students with an interest in the topic should be able to comprehend much of it.
The author is very methodical in his approach to his topic, introducing it from the point of view of the history of original thinking and research in the field. He gives credit to each participant in that history, even those whose failed attempts have put others on the right path to discovery. He is especially complimentary to Fred Hoyle, who while he helped to create and thoroughly supported the concept of the Steady State Universe, was open minded enough to actually supply some of the tenants of the Big Bang as well. Much is made of the collective contributions of workers in the field, even those who "almost ran." Most important, credit is given to Russian contributions that had been ignored, minimalized, or denied during the Cold War years. By approaching his topic from an historical vantage point, Rees helps the reader to think much the way the discoverers did as they added each additional piece of information to the body of cosmological research as it stands today. While much of actual physics is a plethora of numbers and intricate mathematics even more of it, especially in cosmology, involves logical and creative thought.
From an instructional stand point, the book might be a good way of introducing high school science students to the manner of thought of scientists, to the ideal professional relations between them, to the step by step cumulative logic of this type of thought, and to the actual product of scientific effort.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating Cosmology, Feb. 15 2003
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME)   
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
This fascinating book deals with inter alia pregalactic history, black holes, dark matter, time in other possible universes, ecology of universes, omega and lambda, great attractors, pulsars, neutron stars and anthropic reasoning, which the author defends. It represents a drastic enlarging of our cosmic perspectives - the cosmos is more spectacular by far than we could have imagined. He also believes that the apparent fine-tuning that our existence depends on cannot be a coincidence. What we call the universe is likely to be just one member of an ensemble, but ours may be in an unusual subset that permits complexity and consciousness to develop. Our universe could be an atom in an infinite collection, a cosmic archipelago in which impassable barriers prohibit communication between the islands. Quoting scientists like Hawking, Chandrasekar and others throughout, the author broadens our understanding of cosmology and quantum science while offering unique and interesting new perspectives on our views of consciousness and existence. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental questions., Sept. 6 2002
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
The first chapters of the book are a summary of 'The first three minutes' by Steven Weinberg and 'A brief history of time ' by Steven Hawking.
Thereafter, this work becomes a very exciting read.
It deals with the origin of the universe that was created ex nihilo (zero energy), the evolution of the universe (with a first millisecond as an eventful era, and the first 10-36 seconds as an inflationary expansion).
Like John Barrow, he is pessimistic that a 'Theory of Everything' will be found. We don't know the physical laws that prevailed at the Planck time. More, the particles and forces in our universe could be inherently arbitrary. He states that the multiverse may be governed by some unified theory, but each universe may cool down in a fashion that has 'accidental' features ending up ruled by different laws and different physical connstants. His hope to find it lays with the theory of superstrings.
A fundamental question remains the nature of black matter (90 % of the matter in the universe).
On the quantum level, he explains that some processes in the microworld 'know' the direction of time and that there could be a link between consciousness and quantum mechanics.
Importantly,he also states that there is more than one chance in one million that, within the next 50 years, the Earth will be hit by an asteroid large enough to cause worldwide devastation.
A must read for everybody interested in what happened 'before the beginning'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The big bang: grandaddy of all the little bangs!, June 21 2002
By 
Dr. Leslie Brown "Doc Brown" (Tenerife, Spain, Canary Islands.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
This is a terrific book, which covers a whole range of astronomical phenomena. Black holes, the big bang, the big crunch, the multiverse, dark matter, etc. Interestingly, dark matter isn't as spooky as it sounds - it only refers to things in the universe we can't see because they aren't bright enough - objects such as planets.
Although I accept the astronomical evidence for the expansion of the <known> universe, this man will tell you that the whole universe was originally the size of a single pea. I'd like to know how these people can have the audacity to extrapolate to the extreme like this. If my professor saw me doing that with one of my graphs, he'd scream! How can they know PRECISELY what happens in the first yoctosecond after the big bang?! They can only do that if they know everything. Real scientists will admit that they don't know everything. A true scientist will tell you that once you're in extrapolation territory, you're also in uncertain territory. What will most likely happen is that people will discover that the current model of condensed matter physics was merely an approximation, and suddenly the whole notion of a universe the size of a pea will be outdated.
For all those out there that think everything can and will be determined, you might like to know that there is such a thing as the "n-body problem". It states that for more than 3 bodies (be it planets or stars), with an initial position and velocity, it becomes extremely difficult to know their subsequent motion, because of the gravitational influence that each of the bodies exerts on all of the other bodies. Basically, it takes the greatest supercomputers on Earth just to predict the eventual motion of the nine planets in our own solar system. And you know there are approximately 10,000 billion billion stars in this universe.
Martin Rees talks of a multiverse, which is kind of like a load of bubbles, and we exist inside one of them and the edge of our known "universe" is the wall of the bubble. That would mean that we aren't even aware of the other bubbles. If something like a big crunch happens to our bubble, then there are still all those other bubbles that will continue to exist. I think this idea is sensible, because humans have always underestimated the size of "their" universe.
Overall a great introduction to cosmology.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Real science for the non-scientist, April 1 2002
By 
Dr W. Sumner Davis (Maine, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
Sir Martin Rees is Astronomer Royal. How he managed to obtain this lofty position while maintaining his ability to speak English is beyond me. Like Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis, Sir Martin is able to explain some rather complicated and complex ideas in small, easily managed chunks. He has the ability to entertain us, like Michio Kaku, while at the same time, imparting us with a lasting understanding of many of life's really big questions. I have read perhaps 3,000 books (mostly science based) in my tenure as resident of this planet and have written several. I have also written dozens of book reviews for various media. However, the concepts put down in Rees book flow quite eloquently, positively, and manageably---which is indeed rare. The difference between this book's take on such things as life in the universe, black holes, and the beginning of time are easily set part from their Pseudoscientific counterparts---they make perfect sense. I would like to say that "if you buy one book on cosmology this year--buy this one." But I wont. Simply pick up a copy, thumb through a few chapters and it will sell itself. This book is a must read for any high school student who believes physics or science are boring. Or, for the adult non-scientist that has a desire to know. I gave this book "5 stars" because "6" was not an option. Even I gleaned a bit of education-and that's never a bad thing. A definite MUST own.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Before "In the beginning..."", March 30 2001
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
This book is a strong introduction to several major astronomical concepts. It covers a lot and is at times a little disorganized but is well written, clear and stimulating. It is accessible to the novice but its preciseness and density enables to acquire more advanced than just basic knowledge. It could use a 2nd edition by now though, as some of the topics have been the subjects of recent discoveries such as the theory of "brown dwarves". What the reader will definitely not learn is what happened "before the beginning". Nobody knows that and the title is deceptive in that way. I believe Rees meant it as opposed to the biblical "In the beginning...". In the absence of evidence, Rees seems to refuse to even consider that Humanity might have been planned before or at the big bang. To his credit, he seems perfectly content to study and write books about the multiverse in a world before there was a bible, before there was a "In the Beginning...". Hence the title. Rees makes too much of a point of it though, probably to differentiate himself from other popular astronomers.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Hi there, universe, March 5 2001
By 
Joel Brown (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
Martin J. Rees presents us with a biography of our home, the cosmos. He shows us the coincidence that has happened for the complexity of our life to evolove on this planet. He seems also doubtful that it has happened anywhere else, but that this might be explained naturally by the multiverse, (chances are greater with more universes evolving) rather than the Anthropic Principle. Well, he thinks that we should properly term it "Anthropic Reasoning." And this is a theory he seems a bit regretful of. (doesn't think interface with philosophers and theologians is, in principle, and different from what it was in Newton's day) "It would be a pity if theoretical physicists took anthropic ideas too seriously, as it might diminish their motivation for seeking unified theories." And he does talk a good deal about these unified theories, the relationship with quantum effects and general relativity, and even briefly introduces the reader to super-strings. Also educates us on the niche of other empyreal phenomena like dark matter and black holes, and how every one of the things I'm mentioning relates one to another. He discusses the Big Bang, why we are sure of its validity, and its other implications, which includes the future, our universe's Eschaton. This book is a decent look at the state of Cosmological studies and some of the methodologies of observing this grand and bizarre place that emerged almost ex nihilo.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Cosmology from a big perspective, June 1 2000
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This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
This is a book about Cosmology from a big perspective. It takes a view on the very existance of our universe. How it may have come into being and what there may be beyond it in time and space.
Of course, these matters are not the subject of simple experiments but it is remarkable that our understanding of nature allows such speculation.
This book is aimed at a non-technical audience and the overall style is clear and the arguments lucid.
The author starts with an introduction that explains our universe as it has been understood through the main developments of physics in the last one hundred years. The sections on gravitation effects, ranging from stellar collapse to massive black holes missing mass and expansion were presented with great clarity.
However, if you are looking for a book that talks about "Before the Beginning", you may just find yourself wondering why you read the first nine chapters. They are a good, non-technical introduction but they are about our universe from the big bang to the present time.
The last 40% of the book actually contains material hinted at in the title. The author makes the point that our universe is remarkable in the way that it is fit for human life. He then links this observation to the current thinking about the origins of the universe.
Perhaps, our universe is one of many. Very, very many and this one just happens to suit the development of life but there may be many universes "out there" that are still born in the sense that they cannot support life.
Reese explains how space time inflation may lead to universes with different laws of physics and how universes may spawn new universes through the formation of black holes. At the end of this arguement, he talks about the "Anthropomorphic Reasoning" by which we can understand this. These ideas are very speculative and are disputed by many others. Reese achieves a good balance by writing about these disputes.
If you want a book that will give you the current state of the art view of cosmology together with some fascinating speculation about fuuture developments then this is just the job.
I can only level a small number of criticisms at the book. I suspect that most of the target audience will already be familiar with the first 60% of the book so, perhaps, it would have been better to condense that material. The "Further Reading" list at the end just has a collection of titles and authors with no expansion on the contents of these references. Some more information here would be a huge help to readers wondering what to look at next.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Frees the mind to think about the unknowable, May 3 2000
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others (Paperback)
This is an exciting and accessible book of cosmological speculation tempered by rationality and an awareness of the scientific method. Consequently I was very happy to read here about the possibility of "universes" beyond ours; or differently put, something beyond the big bang. I ed to speculate about what happened before and beyond the big bang, but I was told that such speculations were unscientific because by definition the universe and all of time and space came into being with the big bang. Like Fred Hoyle, I never liked this theory of the beginning of the universe, and wished that his steady state model would gain some serious credence. It didn't and the evidence for the big bang grew. Now however, as Rees makes clear, the perspective and even the terminology has changed. Many scientists now speculate that our universe (notice we now have an "our") may just be a budding off of one "universe" from perhaps an infinite potential.
One page 158 Rees writes about the universe at the Planck time (ten to the minus 43 seconds) which is as early as we can get, and incidentally the universe at that time was as small as anything can get: "At this stupendous density...quantum effects and gravity would both be important. What happens when quantum effects shake an entire universe?"
Now that is a question! And the way it is put propels us into something like a glimpse of the universe at that ultra early stage. The Planck time is a constraint on the size of anything including space. One of the things that this means is that spacetime is not infinitely divisible. Space itself has a quantum-like quality. Really?
On page 24 he is talking about communicating with other intelligent beings: "It would be easy to devise signals that would be incontrovertibly artificial: for instance, attention could be attracted by a series 1,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29... These are prime numbers: no natural process could generate them, but they would be recognized by any culture that was interested in (and capable of) picking up cosmic radio waves." Notice how simply but beautifully put this observation is.
On the same page he makes the point that even though we might get some startling advice from a more advanced civilization, there is some question about whether we would follow it, or even if we could benefit from it. He writes: "Optimists claim that such signals could convey enlightening messages of such import that they would enable us to bypass centuries of scientific endeavor and discovery... But such a gap would be hard to bridge, even within human culture. Could, for instance, a short 'message from the future' have guided a leading intellect from an earlier era toward some aspect of modern scientific knowledge? Could Newton have been steered from alchemy toward chemistry...? It would be a daunting challenge to bridge even a few centuries of human cultural change, essentially because scientific advance depends on gradual advances of interconnected techniques and technologies."
I was delighted to find on page 161 my favorite "Zen koan" question, "Why is there anything at all? Why isn't there nothing?" being asked in a slightly different form by Stephen Hawking: "What is it that breathes fire into the equations?...Why does the Universe go to all the bother of existing?" In my opinion, it is a question like this that makes the study of cosmology so compellingly religious. I stopped being concerned with the question of whether God exists or not when I realized how incredibly vast is the known universe that beings superior to us almost certainly must exist and therefore it would be only a matter of degree to get to some being approximating the anthropomorphic conception of "God." That there are demigods out there is clear. That there are demigods who could pass for God among humans is also clear. As for a creator or a first cause, or any sort of nonpersonal "God," the Universe itself is sufficient. So, strangely, I became a deist of sorts. Still on page 161, Rees makes the very important distinction between the physicist's vacuum (which is actually a "rich construct," including "all the particles and fields described by the equations of physics") and the philosopher's "nothing," which really is nothing. Now that I think about it, however, maybe that sort of "nothing" is not even possible, just a philosopher's construct.
Notice that what is wonderful about Rees's book is how freeing it is instead of confining. The mind soars. If his intent was to communicate to a large audience I believe he has succeeded. This is the most informative and readable book on cosmology that I have read in quite a while.
One last speculation: suppose that instead of the expansion of spacetime, we have the implosion of matter, that is to say, instead of having the universe expand, we have matter shrink. Is it possible to tell the difference? Although this may seem frivolous, and perhaps it is, asking such a question has the virtue of engaging the mind, which is what Rees does in this book.
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Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others
Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others by Martin Rees (Paperback - Sept. 23 1998)
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