Current poster-boy of popular science Professor Brian Cox accompanies his BBC TV documentary series, another pop-corn exploration of space, with this book. Beyond the Wonders of the Solar System, Wonders of the Universe throws all the biggest numbers it can at you: 13.7 billion years old, 93 billion light years wide, 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars.
If you saw the series, the pictures – real astronomy and some CGI marvels – will be familiar, as will the globe-trotting location photos of natural and man-made phenomena here on Earth, with which Prof. Cox illustrates from down here all those big occurrences Out There.
This is a handsome, large-format hardback book which covers the same ground as the show, but with the luxury of time and space, appropriately, to describe a little more on each theme from the series, which the chapters follows in the same episodic struture.
Cox on the TV ticks so many boxes, the BBC must have filled its quotas for the year already: barely in his forties, Cox is young, highly educated but Northern, with a distinct Northern accent; an ex-keyboard player in a couple of bands, therefore ‘a bit rock and roll’ and has good teeth, with which he smiles frequently. It’s a combination that can snap knicker elastic from orbit. And as an employee of the LHD at CERN, Cox can show you the equations to prove it. His quiet, unceasing enthusiasm and good humour is always a big draw.
Messengers, Stardust, Falling and Destiny are the four sections corresponding to the series topics; light, the elements, gravity and time. It’s a neat structure on which to hang some hard science in multiple disciplines, without discouraging the layman. You don’t have to understand the math, there’s no exam and if the charts and diagrams are too dense, just look at the full-page colour images. Oh, and there’s Cox himself in various locations, being a daredevil. A bit like the Head-boy at school, you’d hate him if he wasn’t so cool and so dam’ nice.
Much of the script of the TV show is here, with the pictures. You can’t replicate the sweeping helicopter shots and swelling soundtrack on the page, so what you get are facts. Lots of them. It’s a decent companion volume in that it goes beyond the TV. In the book, you can feel the guiding hand of his co-author Andrew Cohen, as the book is less giddy and more measured; it’s been written for people willing to read, those who are left wanting more when the TV show cuts away to another aerial shot. Although it doesn’t look out of place on the coffe table, it has substance and unlike Hawking’s Brief History of Time, you might actually manage to finish this one. RC
Wonders of the Universe
Hardback, 256 pages
RRP £20.00, commonly £10, shop around for half-price offers
Publisher: Collins/BBC Books