Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart

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Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: Calculating the Cosmos takes the reader on a journey through time and space in an accessible, interesting way. Neither an easy read, nor one for those with no knowledge of the area but definitely an enjoyable book for people with an interest in mathematics and how we can use this to shape our understanding of our universe.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 pages Date: September 2016
Publisher: Profile Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781254318

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In Calculating the Cosmos Ian Stewart attempts to explain how mathematics, a subject which strikes fear into the hearts of many, can be used to explain the wonders of the universe in a way which is accessible and understandable in a concise 352 pages. According to Stewart, Calculating the Cosmos takes us from the surface of the Earth to the outer reaches of the cosmos and from the beginning of time to the end of the universe. Does he achieve this? As the author himself states, the fun is in finding out so if you have any interest in mathematics, the universe and the complexities of space and time this may just be the book for you.

Did I like it? It’s hard to say. The subject is challenging, interesting and exciting, the quotes from Shakespeare and Airplane lend some humour and the pictures are stunningly, gloriously beautiful. It is obvious that Stewart has honed his writing style and it is clear to see that this is a subject he is passionate about, which makes it seem unfair not to give a rave review for Calculating the Cosmos. However, whilst the titles of each chapter are wonderful (The Planet That Swallowed its Children, the Clockwork Cosmos and the Inconsistent Moon to name a few) my interest waxed and waned like our inconsistent moon and I found my mind wandering in places.

I’m simply not sure who the intended audience of this book is, due to the theories and concepts discussed it is obviously aimed at those with at least a rudimentary understanding of physics and mathematics; however I’d imagine that this doesn’t go deep enough to satiate the cosmically minded. The tone of the book does not hint at this as an introductory text and I can imagine that someone without a grasp of the key concepts behind cosmology may find themselves left behind. I’m not enough of an expert to critique the content of Stewart’s argument, nor am I in a position to state whether his points are valid. However, as a layman, presumably the target of this book given that it is not sold as an academic text, I can say that by trying to please everyone, this book may not please anyone - not enough mathematics, not enough physics, too dense in terms of text and content or too light for those searching for a deeper understanding. That said, it is clear that Stewart has a significant amount of knowledge about space, time and the universe and his writing style is accessible so perhaps give it a go if you are more than a little interested in the final frontier.

For those interested in learning more about the universe you could try Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson or 50 Things You Should Know About Space by Raman Prinja.

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