Top positive review
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A very good book, but less religion, more science
on January 14, 2012
This is the third recent popular physics book about the origins of the universe (the other two were written by Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene). Each one is written in a slightly different style and theoretical/empirical approach. All are good, but I liked Krauss' book the least. Mainly because, as I said in my title, this book spends too much time talking about religion. The book is based on a popular Youtube lecture that Krauss gave, so if you've seen it (I haven't) this should be the same material expanded to slightly greater depth.
Krauss is out to demonstrate that there is no need to invoke a creator of the universe. Modern physics has advanced to the point where we can now make reasonable hypotheses about the origins of the universe. Krauss spends the first 50-60% of the book discussing the current state of cosmological physics, which is quite impressive. In a nutshell, the meeting of quantum mechanics with general relativity is allowing physicists to make reasonable estimates about the origins of the universe. Krauss admirably cites the mountain of evidence supporting the Big Bang theory and the current state of the universe. Some of the evidence is quite remarkable in how well it fits theory. It certainly wasn't preordained that it would- only careful and clever observations and tests have shown it to be very likely true. What's more, it seems that the data needed to test the Big Bang theory is only available in the early years of the universe, in which we currently live. Trillions of years in the future, if current theory is correct, it will be impossible for any sentient beings to discover the Big Bang and other processes because the universe's expansion will have hidden the data. That makes me wonder if there are any aspects of the universe that are necessarily hidden from us right now. Krauss doesn't consider this possibility, but it makes sense that if in the future some aspects of the universe will be irrevocably hidden from observers, it's possible that in the present the same thing may be occurring. Not that we could do anything about it, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless.
I found that the first half (or so) of the book was the strongest section. It's also when Krauss explains how quantum mechanics demonstrates how something can arise from nothing (and may do so frequently on small scales in the current universe). In essence, it is quite possible for the universe to have originated spontaneously. Krauss doesn't appear to be a big fan of String theory, but he does embrace the idea of multiple universes as a possible explanation for the origins of our own. This is all very interesting, and Krauss does cover some issues that other physics writers have not focused on. I would consider this book to be stronger on evidence and weaker on theory in comparison to other popular physics books.
But what I found most grating was Krauss' continual assault on religious explanations of the origins of the universe. Not that I'm not sympathetic to the primacy of scientific explanations- I most certainly am. However, I feel that the direct attacks on religion are unnecessary because 99% of the audience who'll read this book don't need to be persuaded regarding the importance of using science to study the universe. The remaining 1% won't be swayed from their deep religious beliefs by a mere book. It's also slightly premature because Krauss is unlike Darwin (Richard Dawkins generously compares Krauss to him) who had a near rock-solid case for evolution with mountains of evidence. The precise origin of the universe are still very much a matter of multiple theoretical conjectures. I am sympathetic towards Krauss' work, I just think that physicists are less certain about the origins of the universe and the marriage of quantum mechanics and general relativity than biologists are certain about evolution by natural (and sexual) selection.
So ultimately, I think this is a four-star book. It contains some fascinating science but also a strong atheist agenda that distracts one from that science. Perhaps it is necessary to explicitly point out in science books when they conflict with popular religious ideas, but I prefer leaving that conflict implicit and for the reader to find out. In other words, give the reader more science, less religion, and if they are intellectually honest and curious (and science readers should be), they will come to the right conclusions themselves.
But don't take that as meaning that this book isn't worth reading. It definitely is. As Krauss says, "We live at a very special time...the only time when we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time!" He's definitely right, and for that reason, it's definitely worth reading this book to learn more about why this is a very special time.