Alan Guth - The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins

Alan Guth presents us with a behind-the-scenes look at how the world of particle physics makes its discoveries. Although the book contains many interesting thoughts, facts, stories, and histories, it ultimately fails to meet Guth's claim in the Preface to be "aimed primarily at the nonscientist". There seems to be a growing trend of books aimed at nonscientists where the author thinks that by omitting mathematical equations all can enjoy. While the average person may be fascinated (and enjoy) portions of The Inflationary Universe (like Chapters 1, 15, 17 and other sprinklings throughout), the bulk of the contents will be frustrating.

Although the focus of these books are all different, a nonscientist who wants to read about cosmology should first look at Cosmos, Blind Watchers of the Sky, and/or Before The Beginning before attempting something like this book, The Origin of the Universe, and/or A Brief History of Time. It seems to me that the observers/astronomers can write far clearer books on the subject than the experimenters/physicists.

Guth's account is unique in its personal aspects woven in to the text throughout. Although this 'lightened' the effects of having to try and comprehend such things as Higgs fields, the autobiographical features were occasionally jumpy and seemed out of place. (Not that they should have been omitted. They add to the book. They just needed to be organized better.) A single page may contain aspects of physics which the reader is completely unfamiliar with along with personal accounts involving the Guth Family.

Guth's original theory is now 'dead', but variations of it are alive and well. Roughly fifty different inflation versions have been offered. One of them, or a modified theory, is likely to be correct. (We know this thanks, in part, to COBE.) In a nutshell, inflation explains several 'problems' (or features) in the observable universe. At the same time, inflation accounts for the creation of most of the matter that our universe contains. It also allows for there to be countless other universes created through the inflationary process. Our universe may in fact be merely a pocket universe separated from its sister universes by false vacuums which are responsible for the creation of matter (and space) and the initial spreading of these items.

The findings of COBE and evidences for the Big Bang are explained in more detail in this book than any I have previously read. (For the clearest and 'funnest' explanations of the evidences of the Big Bang, see Kolb's book.) Nonscientists who are interested in the history of science and those with a physics background should find much of value in The Inflationary Universe.

from the publisher:
Rarely have any scientist's predictions been so dramatically confirmed as when NASA's COBE satellite measured the pattern of the cosmic background radiation for the first time in 1992, and showed dramatically that Alan Guth's decade-long struggle to justify his theory of what made the Big Bang BANG had not been in vain. The Inflationary Universe Theory was proved triumphant!

The classic Big Bang Theory had been great at describing what happened after the bang. Yet until recently, particle physicists and cosmologists were stuck on many questions that the Big Bang theory still couldn't answer: If matter can neither be created nor destroyed, how could so much matter arise from nothing at all? Why is the universe as large as it is? The Inflationary Universe Theory is the only one that answers these critical questions.

From the early days of intellectual curiosity to the victory of experimental confirmation, physicist Alan Guth tells the first-hand story of his paradigm-breaking discovery of how the universe began.

"A significant document in the history of science...written in a brisk, engaging style uncharacteristic of scientific autobiographies." -- The New York Times Book Review
Alan H. Guth is V.F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to receiving many distinguished academic awards, Newsweek has called him one of "The 25 Top American Innovators," Science Digest has ranked him among the "100 Brightest Scientists Under 40," and Esquire magazine has proclaimed him one of the "Men and Women Under 40 Who Are Changing the Nation."