We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe – Reviewed

We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown UniverseWe Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book would be excellent if it weren’t for the cringeworthy “jokes” and lack of detail, nevertheless it is still quite enjoyable. 90% of the footnotes are terrible jokes and can be skipped entirely. If your eye notices a longer footnote than usual, it is likely a useful addendum to aid explanation and should be read. The true footnotes are actually hidden away in the bibliography at the back but sadly I only discovered those after being 3/4 of the way through the book. Here you’ll find more detail of how they know the facts in the chapters. The diagrams are mostly useless too and are again just bad jokes in illustrative form.

Examples of lack of detail: when introducing the standard model, they show the 13 particles but do not name half of them. When talking about standard candles they talk about only one i.e. Type 1A Supernovas. Helpfully, they do offer further reading in the form of Mex Tegmark, Sean Caroll’s From Eternity to Here and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Rovelli.

After reading this book, I am less skeptical about dark matter because of the evidence presented (gravitational lensing, simulations, galactic spinning, galactic collisions). I also learned that space is not a vacuum or void, it’s a “goo” which can be bent, stretched and expanded. The idea of the Big Bang starting from a singularity is outdated and the evidence for inflation is in the cosmic microwave background radiation.

There is significant overlap with the authors’ podcast but refreshingly more explanation here. Their jokes seem to work better in the audio format but do not translate well to prose.

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