iPad Book Review: The Wonders of the Universe Review
By Professor Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen Published by Collins
Reviewed by Guy Dayen
Professor Brian Cox and fellow author Andrew Cohen first published a hard cover version of "The Wonders of the Universe" in the summer of 2011. It was quite a successful book, and it is now available as an interactive book for the iPad, a format ideally suited to bring alive the concepts that Professor Cox expounds so entertainingly. A variety of media is used to great advantage in the app: text, graphs, graphics and videos are peppered in every section of this wonderful book. I find it extremely helpful to see some of these ideas play out in animated form; so much so that I would not hesitate to recommend this app even if someone already owns the paper version; it's a wonderful adjunct to the printed book, and it is so edifying to hear the professor explain concepts and conceits in his own words. Brian Cox is truly an engaging teacher, and a master at relating complex ideas in simple terms.
Professor Cox is a particle physicist, a Royal Society research fellow, a professor at Manchester University, and a member of the ATLAS experiment. Best known as presenter of various Wonders series (Wonders of the Solar System, Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of Life) in the UK, he is the author of many books seeking to familiarize the lay public with diverse scientific concepts. He is uniquely qualified to bring the story of our Universe to the iPad, and he does so in very entertaining form.
The basic aim of the book can be said to be to provide us with an understanding of our place in the vastness of the universe. How did everything come to be, and what is the origin of life ? How can we grasp the incredible complexity of the world around us ? Such an undertaking is quite tall order, and Professor Cox acquits himself admirably. Sheldon Cooper might raise a critical eyebrow and snort that such endeavors are beneath the true scientific mind, but this is just the kind of work that is needed in an age where science education seems to be losing ground in many of our schools.
The book is organized to begin from the simplest form of matter and culminate in the vast complexity of our universe. Professor Cox uses the most basic building blocks of matter as the starting point of our voyage of discovery. The subatomic world of quarks, electrons and protons is clearly laid out, and the diagram of the interactions between them makes everything much easier to grasp, at least for me! We then move on to the origins of life, and to a basic discussion of the Big Bang Theory, our next step in understanding the very beginnings of the existence of literally everything in the Universe. Looking out into the vastness of space, Professor Cox finds elements that are common back here on Earth; he bridges the wide gap of nothingness between solar systems, and brings the stuff of stars right back here to Earth. As different and impressive as pictures of Space make the stars around us seem, we come to an understanding that fundamentally, all matter is the same, and this makes our good old Earth as wondrous and unique as anything we can see through a telescope.
Professor Cox's sense of wonder, excitement and reverence is evident at every turn of this interactive book, and that makes it so very engaging, and so much fun. Material such as this can be dry as dust; believe me, I took some science classes that would send anyone to sleep and put them off scientific enquiry for the long count. But Professor Cox is a master at the art of relating abstract concepts to our every day life, and this pulled me right into the story of our origins. His joyful sense of awe at the Universe we call our home awoke a similar sense of wonder in me. Anyone who is curious about science but doesn't have an extensive background will find this book a wonderful and exhilarating read.
The book moves from the subatomic world to the world of atoms, and explores how they are the fundamental building blocks of life and matter. Exploring the structure of the sun and the make-up of the periodic table, giving a basic definition of what life actually is, using the chemistry set many of us got as children as a metaphor for the creation of our Universe, Professor Cox gives a fascinating account of our development and of how things that surround us came to be. It gives one pause to think that so many different and complex interactions occur all around us at every single moment; it's almost overwhelming to ponder how incredibly complicated we all are and what wondrous a thing life is.
Professor Cox then moves on to our solar system, and presents a fascinating exploration of our sun and of its planets. Astronomy joins physics and chemistry, as the overview of our world expands to the planets and stars Man has been gazing at wondrously since the dawn of recorded time. From the depths of the ocean to the heights of our mountain peaks, the importance of our environment is highlighted is a myriad of facets. We then leap into space to explore our neighbor planets. All along the journey, Professor Cox gives us a "video diary" of his explorations, and challenges the reader to think more deeply about the many things around us that we take for granted as routine and expected.
The book keeps expanding further and further out, to the stars, the Milky Way, the galaxies and to the Universe as a whole. The book concludes with a section presenting two "tours" conducted by Brian, which are extracts of the BBC series: "Wonders of the Solar System" and "Wonders of the Universe". The picture that Professor Cox paints of the cosmos around us reminds me of the great work done by Carl Sagan back in the seventies. There is the same excitement, the same urge to revel in the splendor of the world we live in, and the same joy in reaching out to others and share this incredible knowledge.
I enjoyed this interactive book a great deal! The production values here are absolutely top-notch, the music in the different sections is simply beautiful, the videos are broadcast quality and extremely interesting and the graphics are terrific. This work may not present anything new for experts in the field, but for people like me who have a rudimentary or basic grasp of science (and I suspect that there are very many of us), it brings a universe of wonder to the iPad.
Science teachers will find this an incredible resource in the classroom; and parents who want to foster a love of science in their older children will find this book an inestimable resource. It's one of the very best science books available on the iPad today, and a jewel for any iPad library collection. "Wonders of the Universe" is a definite must-have for anyone interested in the world around us, and I recommend it highly.