Non-Fiction Reviews

The Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos

(2006) Eric Chaisson, Columbia University Press, Price not provided, hdbk, xviii +478 pp. ISBN 0-231-13560-2


Many SF fans can claim to have a sound general awareness of science, and indeed many do. Nonetheless all of us can do with honing this general science knowledge but how can this easily be done?

Then again with real scientists, infrequently, but still disturbingly all too often I have heard a specialist -- be they a specialist biologist, or a chemist or physicist -- claim that their area is real science while others are either ephemeral (such as quantum physics) or soft (such as the life sciences), depending on the basis of their view point. I have little truck with such petty one-upmanship which is, in modern parlance 'sad'.

Good on Eric Chaisson then with his Epic of Evolution. He examines the history of the universe covering biology, chemistry and physics/cosmology in his stride. Hard SF fans as well as first-year undergraduate students in particular will find this useful. The first to help round their general knowledge of science's overview of the BIG picture. The latter useful as stage setting for their own discipline: it would make an ideal holiday read prior to a first year course. Yet established scientists will also find this of interest and I am fairly confident that most will find something that intrigues them in each chapter. Written at the proverbial New Scientist level, the seven ages the author covers are 'particles', 'galactic', 'stellar', 'planetary' chemical', 'biological' and 'cultural'. There is also a good index to facilitate dipping and reference. The final note regarding global challenges is appropriate and whether or note we are up to it very much depends on our wisdom and preparedness to look up from our immediate concerns at what is happening. In terms of science, Eric Chaisson does this for us but I suspect that the seemingly important and immediate pressures on potential readers will hinder him accruing a large readership unless, that is, we make time for the bigger picture.

Jonathan Cowie

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