Your place in the universe Understanding our big, messy existence

Paul M. Sutter, 1982-

Book - 2018

An astrophysicist presents an in-depth yet accessible tour of the universe for lay readers, while conveying the excitement of astronomy--

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Amherst, New York : Prometheus Books 2018.
Main Author
Paul M. Sutter, 1982- (author)
Physical Description
272 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 259-260) and index.
  • Prologue: Perhaps This Was All a Big Misunderstanding
  • Chapter 1. Sacred Geometry
  • Chapter 2. A Broken Universe
  • Chapter 3. Tales from a Bewildering Sky
  • Chapter 4. The Death of Antimatter
  • Chapter 5. Beyond the Horizon
  • Chapter 6. Bathed in Radiance
  • Chapter 7. Reaping the Quantum Whirlwind
  • Interlude: A Guide to Living in an Expanding Universe
  • Chapter 8. Behold the Cosmic Dawn
  • Chapter 9. Of Matters Dark and Cold
  • Chapter 10. The Cosmic Web
  • Chapter 11. The Rise of Dark Energy
  • Chapter 12. The Stelliferous Era
  • Chapter 13. The Fall of Light
  • Chapter 14. The Long Winter
  • Epilogue: A Game of Chance
  • Notes
  • Select Bibliography and Further Reading
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Cosmologist Sutter, creator of the podcast "Ask a Spaceman!" and contributing editor for, relates complex ideas with humor and clarity in his enthusiastic look at "all the gory physics on scales small and great" across the universe. Each topic receives a delightfully irreverent-but thoroughly accessible-treatment, from Ptolemy's early "eye-rollingly wrong" Earth-centered model of the universe, through Tycho Brahe's work in "his own private fortress of science," in Danish Uraniborg, to the "frightfully messy" universe of papal "frenemy" Galileo, "the astronomer's astronomer and the curmudgeon's curmudgeon." Sutter shows readers how improved observations and progressive advances in physics and astrophysics have afforded humankind a glimpse of the earliest moments after the Big Bang, some 13.8 billion years ago. From antimatter and black holes to dark matter, dark energy, and the Cosmic Web-the amazing weave of voids and strings of galaxies shaped by gravity and time that make up the universe-this excellent resource celebrates the wonders of space. Sutter's brisk, often humorous writing and gift for clear explanations make this the perfect choice for readers looking to understand the universe on scales both human and cosmic. Agent: Lane Heymont, the Tobias Literary Agency. (Nov.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

PROLOGUE PERHAPS THIS WAS ALL  A BIG MISUNDERSTANDING How the heck do you write a book about the whole entire universe? And not just all the gory physics on scales small and great, but how our knowledge of the cosmos has changed in the past few hundred years, and how that's influenced our views of the heavens, the Earth, and ourselves? And how we got to know what we know now, through all the twists and turns and dead ends and blind alleys and just-kiddings of scientific research? I honestly have no idea, so I suppose we're about to find out together. If you're already familiar with at least some aspects of the cosmic tapestry that I'm about to unfurl (unfold? I'm unsure here of fabric storage techniques), then I sincerely hope you appreciate the slightly warped perspective I have on the history of cosmology and the history of the universe. When it comes to the past four hundred years, and the past 13.8 billion years, certain stories, certain people, and certain physics have always captured my attention more than others, and naturally I wrote about those and pretended the uninteresting stuff doesn't matter. If you're completely new to matters cosmological, well, then you're in for a real treat. You're going to encounter some interesting (to put it mildly) characters, crazy physical processes, and, of course, seriously intensive and possibly therapeutic discussions on deeply enigmatic mysteries of the cosmos. I promise I'm doing my best to hit the right level between blow-your-mind and hold-your-hand. But I don't know your background, your interests, or when you dropped out of school, so don't worry if a section or two (or heck, the entire book) gets a little confusing. Go ahead and give it another shot--I won't mind. Of course I need to toss in an obligatory thanks to a good fraction of the human race. From the dedicated scientists (or protoscientists, in some cases), both named and unnamed, who actually figured out all this stuff , to all the people who have supported me, guided me, taught me, told me I was wrong (that happened a lot), and generally helped make me, me and this book, this book. You know who you are--and thank you for buying this book out of a sense of obligation--so you'll understand why I won't bother listing all your names. My publisher set a word limit, after all. I'm sure that in some way I owe you a deep and sincere apology after you read this book. If you're a fan of history, then my choices to ignore/simplify/disregard certain aspects of the complicated and intertwined nature of human lives and pursuits might irritate you. If you're a fan of physics, then my choices to ignore/simplify/disregard certain aspects of the complicated and intertwined nature of natural processes might irritate you. If you're a fan of formal writing and good grammar, then you probably haven't even made it this far. Depending on your own personal belief and/or philosophical system, there's a really solid chance at some point you will read something that will deeply, terribly offend you, causing you to hurl the book at the nearest wall. It's cool, we all do it. I just hope you know that it's not my intention to offend you--either with my style or my substance--but to play a game of show-and-tell with the universe. This is the story of the cosmos as revealed by the tools of scientific inquiry, which have so far proven to be pretty awesome in that regard. I personally find the heavens above us deeply profound, awe-inspiring, and worthy of further study, and I hope the humble paragraphs you're about to encounter (a) do the universe justice and (b) spark a similar passion in you. But besides being a story of how we look at the universe, this book is also a tale of how the universe looks back at us--about our relationship with the night sky and how we (mostly mistakenly) think it intersects with our daily lives. Some of you (not necessarily you , but somebody) might take that as a critique on a particular religious or philosophical or other nonscientific belief. OK, fine. That's not the point of the book; but I'm not your boss and I'm not going to tell you what to do. Is this book important? Is it necessary? Is cosmology--the study of our entire universe--vital to the advance of human civilization? Well, are you important and necessary and vital? In the grand sense of things, probably not. But we still keep you around and take you out to dinner, don't we? The game of science isn't to make the world a better place--although some scientists are, thankfully, engaged in exactly that--it's to make a better understanding of the world. Science itself is a method, a tool, for studying nature. That tool can be applied in many cases, from what's causing your migraine (besides chapter 4) to the origins, history, and contents of the universe. Trying to figure out how nature works, even in literally unreachable parts of our cosmos, is an end in itself. That's exactly the point: to learn more, because being curious and learning stuff is kind of fun, if learning stuff is your kind of fun. And it's my kind of fun, so that's why this book exists. I have loved learning all these facets of cosmological matters through my youth and professional career. Beyond that, I owe it to you. It's you--the taxpayer, the friend, the supporter--who makes science happen. It's you who keep the lights on and the streets clean and the accounts in order and the beans sprouting, enabling a small percentage of the population to follow a particularly odd passion for wrestling with nature on a daily basis. This book is yours--in a certain sense, you own the collective knowledge summarized in these pages. You also literally own this book, unless you stole it, in which case shame on you. The most important thing to remember, above all else, no matter your level of familiarity, your personal beliefs, the ease with which you get offended, or any other trait that might affect your perception of this work, is to purchase many copies of this book to distribute to your friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, mail carriers, local fire department, students, teachers, priests/rabbis/imams, pets, strangers, landscape architects, interior designers, representatives of the local AFL-CIO chapter, and government leaders, and of course a backup copy for yourself. Science is for sharing, people. So let's get moving. Excerpted from Your Place in the Universe: Understanding Our Big, Messy Existence by Paul M. Sutter All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.