cover image Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos

Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos

Eric Chaisson, . . Columbia Univ., $34.50 (478pp) ISBN 978-0-231-13560-3

Chaisson attempts to explain the origin of the universe and the evolution of everything in it, in nontechnical terms. With such a huge topic, it's hardly surprising that he paints with broad strokes and glosses over specifics. Nonetheless, his writing is clear and his overview will both educate and entertain the average reader. Chaisson (The Hubble Wars ), head of the Wright Center for Science Education at Tufts, structures his book by following the chronology of change and development in the universe, beginning with the creation of atomic particles 15 billion years ago at the time of the Big Bang. Subsequent chapters describe the evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, chemical interactions, life and human culture. Chaisson does a good job of explaining two overarching concepts. First, "all ordered systems seen in nature differ not in kind but only in degree, namely, the degree of complexity." Second, he repeatedly and articulately describes the nature of the scientific method, demonstrating how science differs from other ways of understanding the world. Given the never-ending public controversy over evolution, this point is particularly appropriate for the generalist audience. Photos and illus. (Dec.)