Book Review: The 4 Percent Universe – Richard Panek [TSS]

Title: The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality Author: Richard Panek
ISBN: 9780618982448
Pages: 320
Release Date: January 10, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

In this book about dark matter and dark energy, Richard Panek explains that what we consider “ordinary” matter only makes up 4% of the known universe.  The other 96% is made up of dark matter and dark energy.  Panek chronicles the discoveries that led to these conclusions, as well as the efforts to isolate dark matter and energy and figure out exactly what it is.

Review:

I’ve been fascinated with the idea of dark matter for a long time, but I didn’t know a lot about it.  Sure, I understood that most of the matter in the universe is “missing”, and scientists had come up with the terms “dark matter” and “dark energy” for these missing components, but I didn’t really understand how they could know something is missing without having seen it in the first place.  How can you know part of the universe is missing if it’s always been missing and always will be missing?  I hoped The 4 Percent Universe would answer these questions, as well as educate me on the search for dark matter and dark energy.

The 4 Percent Universe is written clearly and is directed at the layperson, rather than the scientific community.  As a result, it’s easy for someone without a lot of experience with cosmology to understand.  I especially liked the structure – Panek uses scientific discoveries as the base of the book.  They move the narrative forward.  As a result, readers aren’t constantly struggling with technical and difficult ideas; instead, they get the chance to understand each of the discoveries one by one.  I really appreciated this, as it made everything much easier to understand.

I also enjoyed how personal Panek got when it came to the people who were making the discoveries.  This isn’t just a book about dark matter and dark energy.  It’s also about the scientists and astronomers who worked hard to bring this information to light (no pun intended!).  My personal favorite was Vera Rubin, who had to struggle against preconceptions in a male-dominated field in order to win respect.  I appreciated how Panek balanced between the science and personalities, and also depicted the inner politics of the scientific world.  It made for very interesting reading and I appreciated the different perspective.

The 4 Percent Universe is a great pick for anyone interested in dark energy and dark matter, but unsure of whether they really want to delve into the in-depth science.  It’s well-written and engaging, and the personalities of the scientists are just as fascinating as the discoveries they make.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it will definitely be going into my permanent collection of science books.

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Comments

  1. I really wanted to read this one. i have been brushing up on my physics lately. Have you read HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE. I just read that on and loved. i didn’t understand it all, but it was a good read along these lines.

  2. I really wanted to read this one. i have been brushing up on my physics lately. Have you read HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE. I just read that on and loved. i didn’t understand it all, but it was a good read along these lines.

  3. I wondered if this would be too technical. My husband likes to get the books on cosmology that include equations, whereas I prefer the ones that are as you describe this one!

  4. I wondered if this would be too technical. My husband likes to get the books on cosmology that include equations, whereas I prefer the ones that are as you describe this one!

  5. I’m listening to this one right now and I have to agree with your assessment that Panek does what a good science author should: focus on the people involved.

    If you’re interested in particle physics, I’d recommend “Massive,” which I reviewed late last year. Another good history of science book.

  6. I’m listening to this one right now and I have to agree with your assessment that Panek does what a good science author should: focus on the people involved.

    If you’re interested in particle physics, I’d recommend “Massive,” which I reviewed late last year. Another good history of science book.

  7. Seth – I am interested in particle physics, so thank you so much for the recommendation. I hadn’t heard of Massive before.

  8. Seth – I am interested in particle physics, so thank you so much for the recommendation. I hadn’t heard of Massive before.

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