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The paperback reprint in Princeton Science Library features a new preface by the author.
Our universe seems strangely "biophilic", or hospitable to life. Is this happenstance, providence, or coincidence? According to cosmologist Martin Rees, the answer depends on the answer to another question, the one posed by Einstein's famous remark: "What interests me most is whether God could have made the world differently". This highly engaging book explores the fascinating consequences of the answer being "yes". Rees explores the notion that our universe is just a part of a vast "multiverse", or ensemble of universes, in which most of the other universes are lifeless. What we call the laws of nature would then be no more than local bylaws, imposed in the aftermath of our own Big Bang. In this scenario, our cosmic habitat would be a special, possibly unique universe where the prevailing laws of physics allowed life to emerge.
Rees begins by exploring the nature of our solar system and examining a range of related issues such as whether our universe is or isn't infinite. He asks, for example: How likely is life? How credible is the Big Bang theory? Rees then peers into the long-range cosmic future before tracing the causal chain backward to the beginning. He concludes by trying to untangle the paradoxical notion that our entire universe, stretching 10 billion light-years in all directions, emerged from an infinitesimal speck.
As Rees argues, we may already have intimations of other universes. But the fate of the multiverse concept depends on the still-unknown bedrock nature of space and time on scales a trillion trillion times smaller than atoms, in the realm governed by the quantum physics of gravity. Expanding our comprehension of the cosmos, Our Cosmic Habitat will be read and enjoyed by all those – scientists and nonscientists alike – who are as fascinated by the universe we inhabit as is the author himself.
Prologue: "Could God Have Made the World Any Differently?" xi
PART I: From Big Bang to Biospheres
1 Planets and Stars 3
2 Life and Intelligence 15
3 Atoms, Stars and Galaxies 35
4 Extragalactic Perspective 49
5 Pregalactic History 65
6 Black Holes and Time Machines 87
PART II: The Beginning and the End
7 Deceleration or Acceleration? 99
8 The Long-Range Future 113
9 How Things Began: The First Millisecond 123
PART III: Fundamentals and Conjectures
10 Cosmos and Microworld 141
11 Laws and Bylaws in the Multiverse 157
APPENDIX: Scales of Structure 183
Notes to the chapters 187
Sir Martin Rees is Royal Society Research Professor at Cambridge University, and holds the title of Astronomer Royal.
"[This book] has an informal style and breadth of coverage that make it a joy to read [...] Rees's explanations are exactly right."
– William G. Unruh, Science
"Rees provides a nice summary of how we got here, how the universe began and how it might end [...] Lay readers will appreciate Rees' clear, uncomplicated prose, even when dealing with tough stuff that leaves most physicists tongue-tied. Most welcome of all, he explains how scientists know what they claim to know."
– K.C. Cole, Los Angeles Times
"[An] awe-inspiring survey [...] Rees is not only a world-class cosmologist but one of our best living science writers."
– John Cornwell, Sunday Times
"Our very own Astronomer Royal blasts off into space, in velvety, friendly prose. His musings on the possibilities of alien life and of time travel, the necessity to colonise space, and a vision of the far future make for a pleasingly concise and always intriguing tour d'horizon."
– Steven Poole, The Guardian
"In the crowded field of popular writing about the universe, Rees is genuinely in the forefront – an accomplished scientist with the superior writing skills [...] He exudes the instinctual curiosity we all possess when looking upward, and he focuses that wonderment on the narrow range of cosmological numbers that allow us to ruminate about it all. A wonderfully appealing presentation."
"There is a lot of stuff in the universe – the estimated number of stars is 10 followed by 22 zeros. But as to whether there are other planets with life like Earth's, Rees says the chance of two similar ecologies is less than the chance of two randomly typing monkeys producing the same Shakespearean play."
– George F. Will, The Washington Post
"In the instant after the big bang, there was only a one-part-per-billion preponderance of matter over antimatter, just enough to create the universe that created us. Rees, an accomplished scientist with superior writing skills, marvels over the wonder that matter even exists."
– Booklist (Top 10 Sci-Tech Books of 2001)
"Rees is one of the great astronomers royal; he is a leading cosmologist, and his skill in writing what may be termed popular science is probably unequaled today. I know of no other author who could present such difficult concepts in so lucid a manner. This is a brilliant book, to be read and enjoyed by all."
– Sir Patrick Moore, Times Higher Education Supplement
"A must-read book for people who are interested in the philosophical implications of the emerging idea that, possibly, we are not alone."
– Science Books and Films
"A fabulous journey round the cosmos in excellent company."
– Maggie McDonald, New Scientist
"As books encompassing the realm of everything in the universe (universes?) go, this one is relatively short. Its brevity, however [...] its elaborate index (a point I find refreshing), and the fact that it was written by someone so esteemed in the astronomical community, begs the reader to ask why this couldn't be used as a one-semester introductory text. Well-written, clear visuals, great author: a good combination for a first book on the subject."
– April S. Whitt, Planetarian
"This book is original, stimulating, and charmingly modest while sketching some grand ideas. There may be better guides to thinking about the universe than Martin Rees, but not on our planet!"
– Robert P. Kirshner, Harvard University and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
"Our Cosmic Habitat is certain to be widely quoted and widely read. It is beautifully written, using inspiring and stimulating analogies. While the book is intended for the nonscientist, it provides an accurate guide to the best current thinking about the nature and constitution of our universe. If I wanted to give a gift to a person I would like to become a close friend, this is the book I would choose."
– John N. Bahcall, Institute for Advanced Study
"In this book, Martin Rees, one of the leading figures in theoretical astrophysics, offers the reader his unique perspective on the field and introduces many of the most exciting new results and ideas in astronomy."
– David N. Spergel, Princeton University
"Confident, helpful, modest and good-humored [...] . Rees, a masterful theorist, brings readers a sheaf of insights."
– American Scientist
"The clearest and most easily understandable account of our universe available [...] . We should be grateful that not only has a Universe arisen that allows life, but that a scientist of the calibre of Rees is willing to explain it to us."
– Ian Morison, New Scientist