Stars in their eyes
The Scientific American Book of the Cosmos edited by David Levy, Macmillan, ￡20, ISBN 0333782933
Previous generations of scientists would have killed to know what we know. For the first time in history, we have a pretty good idea of the material content of the Universe, our position within it and how the whole thing came into being.
In these times of exploding knowledge there is a definite need to take stock and assemble what we know in a palatable (受欢迎的) form. (46)
The essays in The Scientific American Book of the Cosmos have been selected by David Levy, co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which in 1994 struck Jupiter with the violence of several full-scale nuclear wars. (47) This is certainly a great collection of essays, but it is not, as the book promises, a seamless (完美的，无缝隙的) synthesis of our current knowledge.
Nobody can fault the range of articles Levy has included. There are essays on the planets, moons and assorted debris (碎片) in the Solar System, and on our Galaxy, the Milky Way. (48)
The contributors, too, are stars in their own fields. Not many books can boast chapters written by such giants as Erwin Schrodinger and Francis Crick. My personal favorites are a piercingly clear essay by Albert Einstein on general relativity and an article by Alan Guth and Paul Steinhardt on the inflationary (膨胀的) Universe.
So much for the book's content. But Levy has not succeeded in providing an accurate synthesis of our current knowledge of the cosmos, which the book jacket promises. Gathering together previously published articles inevitably leaves subject gaps, missing explanations and so on. (49) But there isn't one. In fact, surprisingly for a book so densely packed with information, there is no index.
Collecting essays in this way is clearly a good publishing wheeze (巧妙的). But this approach shortchanges the public, who would be better served by an account molded into a seamless whole. (50) However, for the next edition, please, please can we have an index?
A Tegmark fears he may hold the record for the longest time taken to read one book.
B In a more positive vein, this is a wonderful collection of essays to dip in and out of if you already have a good overview (概述) of current cosmic understanding.
C Levy is an active astronomer and an accomplished writer, so you'd expect him to provide a broad and accurate picture of our current understanding of the cosmos.
D Scientific American has attempted to cater to this need by bringing together essays that have appeared in the magazine.
E To some extent, these could have been plugged with a glossary (词表) of terms.
F Also included are contributions on the world of subatomic particles, the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of its existence elsewhere.
46. D 47. C 48. F 49. E 50. B