Fortean Times, June 2006
The Infinite Cosmos:
Questions from the frontiers of cosmology
Oxford University Press, 2006
Hb, £18.99, viii+248pp, illus, index, ISBN 0 19 850510 8
Joseph Silk, Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford University, provides a broad overview of the state of the science, from the basic make-up of our immediate cosmic neighbourhood, through to the ultimate fate of life, the universe and, well, everything.
Silk trots through all the expected subjects, including the nature and formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters; black holes; space-time curvature; the big bang and inflation; dark matter and dark energy; and, in the longest chapter, the origins of structure in the universe. That's all followed by some concluding chapters on the really big questions: is the universe actually infinite (probably not quite, though the book's title rather begs the question); is there life elsewhere; is time travel possible; does God have a role in scientific cosmology. Depending on your own opinions, you may find Silk's answers either commendably even-handed or overly cautious.
Silk's prose is readable if unremarkable, enlivened by a generous selection of quotations from scientists, philosophers and artists (including one from TS Eliot that Silk evidently likes enough to include twice). There's also a sprinkling of illustrations, many of which are taken straight from other popular science books, which suggests a certain lack of effort in preparing this volume.
It's a decent enough overview of current thought in cosmology, but the lack of a bibliography or suggested further reading is a serious omission there's plenty of popular science books looking in greater detail at a lot of the subjects here, but anyone whose appetite is whetted by this book will have to find them for themselves. It would serve as a refresher for anyone with some background knowledge, but there's little to distinguish it from a host of other similar books.