The Universe in your Hand

The Universe in your Hand

A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond

Book - 2016
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"If Ms. Frizzle were a physics student of Stephen Hawking, she might have written THE UNIVERSE IN YOUR HAND, a wild tour through the reaches of time and space, from the interior of a proton to the Big Bang to the rough suburbs of a black hole. It's friendly, excitable, erudite, and cosmic."
--Jordan Ellenberg, New York Times besteselling author of How Not To Be Wrong

Quantum physics, black holes, string theory, the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, parallel universes: even if we are interested in these fundamental concepts of our world, their language is the language of math. Which means that despite our best intentions of finally grasping, say, Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, most of us are quickly brought up short by a snarl of nasty equations or an incomprehensible graph.

Christophe Galfard's mission in life is to spread modern scientific ideas to the general public in entertaining ways. Using his considerable skills as a brilliant theoretical physicist and successful young adult author, The Universe in Your Hand employs the immediacy of simple, direct language to show us, not explain to us, the theories that underpin everything we know about our universe. To understand what happens to a dying star, we are asked to picture ourselves floating in space in front of it. To get acquainted with the quantum world, we are shrunk to the size of an atom and then taken on a journey. Employing everyday similes and metaphors, addressing the reader directly, and writing stories rather than equations renders theseastoundingly complex ideas in an immediate and visceral way.

Utterly captivating and entirely unique, The Universe in Your Hand will find its place among other classics in the field.

Publisher: New York :, Flatiron Books,, 2016
Edition: First U.S. edition
ISBN: 9781250069528
Characteristics: 386 pages ; 22 cm


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Sep 08, 2020

"The Universe in your Hand" is not for someone who likes things technical. But to the author's credit, he amply makes it clear in the beginning that the only equation that's there in the book is E=m*(c squared), and so you can't really complain. But the problem is, without equations, the content gets diluted and if the content you're talking about is related to Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Dark Matter etc, it gets even worse. So, to be totally honest, I only liked that part of the book where the author takes you on a mental ride across the galaxy and beyond. But as far as other sections of the book are concerned, including time dilation, length contraction, and particularly the quantum world, I must say it's not much better than a mildly entertaining movie.

Part One, of Seven, was my favorite. And also the only that can be properly imagined by the reader. The author takes you on a ride from where you're standing to the edge of the universe, some 13.4 billion lightyears away! And that ride is fascinating, nothing short of Disneyland-like adventure. Everything that he lets you encounter tells a unique story - from the Oort cloud, to the Sagittarius A* black-hole, to the 'edge' of the universe. Planet earth, the inner planets, why - even the entire solar system looks mundane compared to the world beyond all that.

At this point, I'd like to mention that the author is a highly qualified Physics professor, and I'd not have picked this book if he wasn't the assistant professor to Stephen Hawking!

Rest of the chapters get, sort of, inaccurate. Or at least, harder and harder to conventionally "imagine" and that's how they're supposed to be - unimaginable. Time dilation is okay, but length contraction, quantum entanglement etc are better "equationally imagined" (say in the form of a waveform) than with visuals!

That said, chapters on sub-atomic particles were interesting. I got a clear idea of higher level working of mesons, gluons, the different kinds of quarks, the Higgs field etc. The author also explains some of the most basic, but often ignored questions like if all atoms are 99% empty space, why wouldn't everything just pass through everything, etc (In case you're wondering, the answer is Pauli's Exclusion Principle). The book also clearly explains the Inflatons, Gravitons, and such quasi-hypothetical particles and their significance.

Overall, while I did enjoy reading this book, I started longing more for a mathematical basis for all the concepts explained in it, and for that, have picked up a traditional textbook (not the expert level one though - like S.Sankar) - David Griffith's Introduction to Quantum Mechanics.

Jun 13, 2017

Brilliant - Cosmology 101 for adults. Readable, with a short narrative to draw you into some of the facts and theories, this is an excellent overview of astronomy and physics. Great for all laypeople interested in science.

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