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Masters of the Universe: Conversations with Cosmologists of the Past

Popular Science

By: Helge S Kragh(Author)

285 pages, 14 b/w photos

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Nov 2014 | #214658 | ISBN-13: 9780198722892
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £28.99 $38/€33 approx

About this book

How did our modern picture of the universe come into being? Masters of the Universe tells this fascinating story in an unusual format that blends factual and fictional elements. It is based on a series of interviews that a fictional person conducted with leading astronomers and physicists between 1913 and 1965. Among the interviewed scientists are giants such as Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, and George Gamow, but also scientists who are less well known today or not primarily known as cosmologists such as Karl Schwarzschild, Paul Dirac, and Svante Arrhenius.

By following the interviews the reader gets a lively and "almost authentic" impression of the problems that faced this early generation of cosmologists. Although the interviews are purely fictional, a product of the author's imagination, they could have taken place in just the way that is described. They are solidly based on historical facts and, moreover, supplemented with careful annotations and references to the literature. In this way Masters of the Universe bridges the gap between scholarly and popular history of science.

"This interesting work would be a useful addition to college libraries. Recommended."

"Helge Kragh tells us the history of twentieth-century cosmology in a most lively and accessible form. Through his ingenious recourse to fictional interviews, he succeeds in conveying both the scientific stakes and the human complexity of one of the greatest adventures of mankind."
– Olivier Darrigol, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

"An ambitious and highly engaging book that is also a very major contribution to the history of modern cosmology."
– Robert Smith, University of Alberta

"A rich and highly imaginative narrative that uses fictional interviews as the platform for the story, which has a fine historiographical style and is presented with flair. This is an absorbing and different approach to the history of cosmology. [...] This is an outstanding book, suitable for the numerous leisure (or pleasure) historians in the astronomy community."
– Simon Mitton, University of Cambridge


1: Kristian Birkeland: from aurora to the universe
2: Svante Arrhenius' eternal cosmos
3: Karl Schwarzschild: astronomer and physicist
4: Hugo von Seeliger and stellar cosmology
5: Albert Einstein's finite universe
6: Willem de Sitter and the expanding universe
7: George Lemaître's primeval atom
8: Arthur Eddington's rationalistic cosmology
9: Edwin Hubble, observational cosmologist
10: George Gamow: nuclear physics and the early universe
11: Fred Hoyle and Hermann Bondi: the steady state theory
12: Paul Dirac and the magic of large numbers
13: Robert Dicke and the big bang

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After graduation from the University of Copenhagen in physics and chemistry, and a period as a high school teacher, Helge Kragh became Associate Professor at Cornell University, Departments of History and Physics. Since 1990 he has held positions as Curator at the Steno Museum for Science and Medicine, Aarhus University, and as Professor of History of Science at the University of Oslo. In 1997 he was appointed Professor of History of Science and Technology at Aarhus University, Denmark. Kragh is a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters, the International Academy for History of Science, the European Society for History of Science, the European Physical Society, and the European Academy of Science.

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