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B Book recommendations for Big Bang Model?

  1. May 6, 2016 #1


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    A recent discussion at the Expanding from and eventually to a singularity thread has been both interesting and informative, and it has shown me very clearly that I would benefit from a few good books, rather than the piecemeal approach I've been taking to understanding singularities and the Big Bang with web articles / pages so far. What I am most interested in are books that go into some detail about the Big Bang Model of cosmology - wild theories about what might have existed prior to existence would also interest me. As I'm not a physicist or mathematician, and I'm looking to improve my knowledge rather than confuse myself further, something written in a way that the information is more accessible for non-scholars would interest me even more (it doesn't have to be at Sesame Street level, either). I'm not interested in a single book, I would like to read and learn from multiple books on this subject.

    I would love to know what people here would recommend, and look forward to taking a more disciplined approach to understanding this subject!
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  3. May 6, 2016 #2


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    Try Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes" for a good discussion of the very early universe. It's an older book (by cosmology standards) but worth a read.
  4. May 6, 2016 #3


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    Thank you so much for this! I looked it up in Google and got a link to a .pdf version ... it's a copy of the original, 1977 edition; but it gave me the chance to look through Weinberg's writings and get a feel for the writing. I've already got the 1993 edition in my shopping basket on Amazon and am looking quite forward to settling in with this book :-)
  5. May 6, 2016 #4


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    I would recommend - besides phinds' excellent recommendation, to stay away from PopSci literature and try to study something more difficult (with some math involved) , in order to get a good quantitative sense. I also think - if you haven't done so, that you must get some background in Cosmology, so you can understand more specific topics/ fields better. In this regard I recommend B.Ryden's book "Introduction to Cosmology" https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Cosmology-Barbara-Ryden/dp/0805389121. There are many other good introductory texts for Cosmology as well. I would also recommend - if you like Cosmology and want to go further in your learning, to watch Leonard Susskind's lectures on YouTube.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  6. May 6, 2016 #5
    One of my favorites is A brief history of Time by Stephen Hawking.
  7. May 6, 2016 #6


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    Some comments on previous recommendations:

    Ryden's textbook is just that - a textbook. If you find yourself getting a vertigo every time you see an integration or derivative sign, you might want to skip it. On the other hand, it's great if you do have a solid calculus background.
    Personally, if you really had to pick up a first-ever textbook, I'd recommend A.Liddle's 'Introduction to Modern Cosmology', as it's as light-weight treatment of the topic as it can get without losing comprehensiveness. It's still a textbook, though, so the earlier caveat applies here too.

    The First Three Minutes, as great as it is, has a downside - it's some really dry reading. Unless you let yourself get swayed and charmed by the meticulously detailed nuts and bolts of nucleosynthesis, you might find it hard to plod through.

    A choice a bit more easy on the reader would be 'The inflationary universe' by Alan Guth. Roughly the first third of the book gives an overview of the BB model, including some historical details of its development, while the latter part concerns itself with the inflationary period currently thought to have preceded the BB, with some pondering around the edges of science.

    There's an issue with both of these latter two - they're somewhat dated. E.g., you won't find anything about dark energy in them, for example (unless added in foreword to latter editions) - which is an integral part of current cosmology, and the numbers might be a bit off (i.e., lacking in modern precision).

    Also, I'm apparently one of the five people who haven't read A Brief History of Time. :/
  8. May 6, 2016 #7


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    I think PopSci is part of what has confused me; and I'm still shaking my head at the fact that I haven't already taken a more disciplined approach to this interest of mine. The mathematics will be an interesting challenge for me. 20 years ago, after failing remedial algebra at the university, I had to take a placement test, the results of which somehow gave me the option to bypass algebra outright and go straight into calculus. I thought someone at the math department had a sick sense of humor, and never trusted myself to learn calculus - not too long after taking this test, I got into computers and chose a different path altogether. I can see from the discussion in the thread that led me to starting this one, that if I really want to understand what interests me, I'm going to need to be able to understand the math involved. So I think you called it correctly. Skipping ahead, I think Bandersnatch's advice in this regard makes sense - if I don't understand the math that goes hand-in-hand with everything else I'm reading, odds are good that I'll wind up confusing myself. The possibility to take a few classes here at the local community college exists - I think this might be a good idea before I pick up the book you recommended. Cosmology definitely interests me - both from a scientific and philosophical perspective - and I will look into the Susskind lectures you recommended within the next day or so. Thank you for your recommendations!

    Newjerseyrunner, I haven't read this book - I have, however, read the mini version of it ... I found it at a flea market one day, and marveled that it was there, in English, in brand new condition, and cost 50 cents. For once, I didn't bother to haggle, I simply took the book and enjoyed every page of it. The level of writing was not at all challenging to understand; but it was still conversational enough that I didn't feel like the author was patronizing the readers. I wouldn't mind reading the big brother to this book, not at all - and since it has been recommended in this thread, I think that's all the more reason to add this to my reading list. Thank you!

    I touched on the first part of your recommendation regarding Ryden and calculus; so I'm not going to add much to it here. Light-weight while remaining comprehensive is intriguing - especially now when I'm essentially looking to improve my understanding while also working on the foundation (i.e. calculus) to eventually make me more conversant on the subject at the levels being displayed in this forum! Textbooks don't scare me too much - even the thought of algebra doesn't make me recoil the way it once did. So the book from Liddle is something I will definitely take into consideration.
    I think there is a benefit to reading dated sources, in that it enables one to sort of trace the developmental steps leading to current ideas. Since this is a subject that I find really interesting, it wouldn't bother me to read a few books that may not be bleeding edge. Pondering around the edges of science is something else I find very interesting ... it's at that point that things sometimes start to get a bit more metaphysical, which also fascinates me. I will also give Guth's book some serious consideration - thank you, as well, for your thoughts and recommendations here!

    I'm also among those five, having only read the lite version of the book; but this is something I have just decided to remedy!
  9. May 7, 2016 #8


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    As a determined lifelong learner, I can assure you that you can learn anything, if you really want to. Regarding math, if you want a worthy path to follow, micromass is an expert - do not misinterpret this: there is a whole lot of great, very well educated people here in the forum, from mentors to members, but micromass is truly great on math, so you can ask for advice about what math - math books you will need. Personally, I spent a long time to self - learn many things in math, besides what I formally learned in Computer Science. In Calculus for instance, I used Stewart's Calculus and Schaum's Outline of Calculus many years before, Kolmogorov - Fomin and H.Brezis for Functional Analysis and Munkres "Topology" to name a few.

    Yes, that's absolutely true and that's why I put the constraint of getting to learn some advanced math, in order to get a quantitative sense. It is true that you can do fairly good without math at a qualitative level, but you'll end up not knowing "the whole story" - this of course, in case you really want to dig a subject deeply enough.

    As an extra recommendation - I have personal experience on this, online courses from Coursera and edX, are really worthy for many diverse backgrounds and learning goals including self and life - long learners. If you want to get a statement of accomplishment with no cheat, you have to spend a lot of time studying and you really learn and get the motivation to pursue a subject further.
    As a last comment, I think math are absolutely necessary, in order to discover and conceive the beauty of Physics.
  10. May 7, 2016 #9


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    I definitely hope to be able to ask questions about all sorts of subjects as I move along this path - as I look through the questions being posed in the forums here, I find the questions and volume of questions impressive; but I find the answers - the willingness to help that demonstrates not just a community feeling, but a true love for the sciences and mathematics involved - even more impressive. I will definitely keep micromass in mind; but I need to get a few things sorted and arranged before I can really start plowing into all of this. I agree with you about motivation being a requirement to learning - the worst is trying to learn what we think we already know, which is why I try to stay humble - but a general lack of motivation certainly isn't going to help, either.

    I couldn't agree more about wanting to dig deeper and actually get the whole story. I would like at some point to be able to carry on meaningful conversations over this topic with people in this forum - for that, I'll need a bigger shovel than I currently possess, and a much more refined technique ;-) I have calculus in my mind for when the class here opens up (that is one of those things I would prefer to be able to attend a lecture and have an instructor to speak with face-to-face in order to learn it); but until then, I can be happy with the other books that were recommended that give me the more qualitative perspective, as you put it. Something like that only serves to whet my appetite to learn more, it doesn't spoil it.

    Cheating defeats the purpose of scholarship; and it displays a lack of patience and trust in one's capacity to learn and master various concepts and materials. No patience, no trust; then no real love for the subject. Thank you very much for the online course recommendations - I will be looking into those shortly! Even if they don't have something that fits my current needs regarding this subject, this is by far not the only thing I'm interested in learning.
  11. May 12, 2016 #10
    I love "Cosmology: The Science of the Universe" by Edward Harrison
  12. Feb 20, 2017 #11
    I'm always interested in how theories of physics developed. In other words, how did the great minds come up with these theories? So I like to study physics, and also mathematics, in a historical context.

    As far as the expanding universe theory, it was first published in 1927 by Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest who was a member of the Jesuit order. A few years later it was taken up by Hubble. Aside from his publications in scientific journals, Lemaître wrote a more popular essay called The Primeval Atom. This may be a good place to start if you are interested in how he developed his theory of the expanding universe.

    There is a rather amusing story about Lemaître, who believed in an expanding universe, and Einstein, who originally did not believe in an expanding universe. Lemaître told Einstein that his calculations were correct, but his physics was atrocious. Of course Lemaître turned out to be right, according to current physics.
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