God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity and the Expanding Universe

Amir D. Aczel, Author Basic Books $22 (272p) ISBN 978-1-56858-139-2
For decades, scientists have debated whether the universe will eventually collapse upon itself, will expand until it reaches an optimal size and remain steady, or will expand forever. To most everyone's surprise, studies of particular huge supernovae are providing evidence that the last possibility may be right and that billions of years from now the universe will be an unimaginably immense void of burned-out stars. The explanation for this may lie in the ""cosmological constant,"" a part of Einstein's field equation for general relativity. Though Einstein described the constant as the greatest blunder of his career, many scientists now think that it could correctly represent some kind of ""funny energy"" pushing the universe apart. Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem; Probability 1) contends that Einstein's equation for the cosmological constant is our best approximation of what he calls ""God's equation"": the ultimate summary of how the universe works. Though Aczel's analysis of Einstein's work requires familiarity with advanced mathematics, that analysis makes up only a minor portion of his book, and most readers will appreciate the author's inclusion of the great physicist's letters to astronomer Erwin Freundlich. Translated here for the first time, they give a glimpse of Einstein's ambition and of his occasional indifference toward collaborators who were no longer useful to him. Aczel's writing is marred by his proclivity to make hyperbolic statements (""Einstein became one of the greatest celebrities--possibly the greatest--the world has ever known""), and some of his historical observations are na ve. Those fascinated by Einstein will find much of interest here, but general readers hungry for information about recent developments in cosmology may want to consult more accessible authors, such as John Gribbin (The Case of the Missing Neutrinos). Figures not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/01/1999
Release date: 11/01/1999
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