Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe

You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe
You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I swear that I wrote the bulk of this review prior to completing the book. I read most of this book while traveling and wrote my initial thoughts on a sheet of paper from a notepad printed with the name of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where I was staying in Las Vegas. I state this because I wrote the part about Wikipedia before I got to the end of book where in a note at the end of the bibliography, the author states that he, in fact, frequently consulted Wikipedia as part of his research while writing the book. Perhaps that is why the book reads like several Wikipedia articles strung together.

I am somewhat biased I am afraid because I have read several book of the popular-science type and particularly ones covering the beginning of the universe and the development of life. I have read A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Science Class You Wish You Had, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, and of course, Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I feel that any of those authors could have written this book in just a few days using nothing but Wikipedia as a reference.

The universe is immense. The universe is old. The universe is complex. That is all. Carry on. So goes the first meaningful chapter which is a straightforward comparison of size starting at one meter and proceeding ever larger until arriving at the size of the visible universe. In similar fashion, subsequent chapters cover the history of science including the development of the scientific method and measuring devices. A chapter midway through the book mirrors the earlier chapter by starting at 100 centimeters and going down to subatomic particles. Other chapters start at the Big Bang and the birth of the universe and proceed through the development of galaxies including our own Milky Way, then the Solar System and our home planet, and then the development of life on Earth and eventually arriving at the evolution of our own species. The information presented is easily gathered from Wikipedia and is arranged in a basically straightforward manner.

I would like to think that I can appreciate a well-written popular science book. I just do not think this is an example of one.

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