H163: Suggestions for Future Reading

In the event that this course has not exhausted your interest in cosmology, there are many good popular and semi-popular accounts of modern cosmology that can tell you about things we didn't cover in much depth. I have only read a handful of these, so I cannot give you a comprehensive list of recommendations. However, four books I can recommend are
The Whole Shebang by Timothy Ferris (Simon & Schuster)
The Inflationary Universe by Alan Guth (Addison Wesley)
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene (Norton)
Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees (Basic Books).

The Whole Shebang covers somewhat the same territory as our course, but with more discussion of current work. The level and style are sort of like that of The Light at the Edge of the Universe, but Shebang has more emphasis on theory and less on observation.

The Inflationary Universe is, obviously enough, the book you should read if you want to know more about inflation, or about particle physics in the early universe (there is also a good, quick review of standard cosmology along the way). The level is more like that of The First Three Minutes, i.e., a bit tougher than The Whole Shebang. Guth tells the exciting (to a physicist anyway) story of how the theory of inflation came about in the first place, and about the more interesting ideas that have come from extending the inflation theory, such as the possibility that different parts of the universe (beyond the part that we can observe) have different physical laws or even different numbers of dimensions, and the possibility that new universes (!) could be created in the laboratory.

The Elegant Universe is only incidentally about cosmology; mostly it is about string theory, the attempt to develop a single, consistent theory that consistently describes gravity, quantum theory, and the rest of particle physics. If you are interested in these kinds of questions, extra dimensions, and so forth, this is the book for you.

I haven't actually read Just Six Numbers, but I have heard good reports of it, and Martin Rees is a great astrophysicist and writer. This book explores a speculative answer to the question of why the parameters of the universe (like Omega and Lambda) are what they are, and it covers a lot of modern cosmology along the way. Rees has written several previous books on cosmology, and if you like this one, you might want to look at some of the others.

If you're interested more in the observational aspects of astronomy rather than theoretical ideas in cosmology, the book I recommend is First Light, by Richard Preston (Random House), which tells the story of two telescopes on Mount Palomar and their use to search for distant quasars and nearby asteroids. Preston is a superb writer, and he captures both the feel of astronomy and the personalities of his main characters (one of them being my thesis advisor Jim Gunn, arguably the greatest observational astronomer working today).

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Updated: 2002 December 4[dhw]