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Children's Books - age range 11+ *

Review - Bang! The Complete History of the Universe - Brian May, Patrick Moore & Chris Lintott 

 

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I don't think the authors intended this to be a book for children, but there's a lot of the children's book about it - not just the rather impressive lenticular image of spherical explosion on the front (one of those textured plastic things where the image changes as you move the angle of the book, in this case with an excellent 8 different stages), but also the heavy dependence on pictures, the rather bitty approach and the text that isn't exactly patronising but certainly tends to brush over things a bit, such as "Much of the strange behaviour of extremely small systems can only now be explained by considering them to be made up of waves rather than particles. This theory is known as wave-particle duality." It's the sort of explanation that someone (was it Lewis Carroll?) has in the past described as "plonking."

The reason I've requested this review to appear in the children's section is because the book fits there well, but also because I have to admit that while it's a bit simplistic for an adult who has read anything else on subjects from quantum theory to cosmology, it is the sort of book I would have loved when I was 11. It really is lusciously illustrated with all those glorious photographs astronomers are so good at producing these days, and it cruises through pretty well everything you want to know about in basic cosmology, touching on a lot of the underlying science as it goes (hence the quantum theory part).

With a collection of authors like this - a rock musician, the world's best known amateur (offically, at least) astronomer and his side-kick - it's necessary to say a word about them too. On principle I dislike celebrity-driven publishing, so in some ways I'd rather it was just down to Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott (there's certainly a feeling of Moore's style comes through sometimes in the prose). However, though Brian May was made famous by playing in Queen, he is now taking a more active interest in his original subject (he abandoned a PhD on interstellar dust to join Queen), so it's not so bad as the same book written by (say) Jade Goody, Moore and Lintott.

I would recommend skimming over or ignoring entirely the preface and introduction (apart from the usual impressive pictures), as they are somewhat dull in style and don't add much, but that apart it's a fascinating book for anyone from age 11 up who is interested in the universe but doesn't know much about it yet. If you are looking for a more sophisticated approach, consider Simon Singh's Big Bang. As you might expect from a book Moore has a hand in, there's a bit near the back on getting started in astronomy - and that's not a bad thing either. If you want a feel for the book - and lots of interesting material to look at as well - take a look a the Bang Universe website, set up to accompany the book.

Only in hardback: at the time of review, though listed on Amazon.com it isn't showing as available (but Amazon.co.uk do ship to the US)

Reviewed by Miles Vincent

* Our age range recommendation is an estimated guide, but individual readers outside the range could still enjoy the book!

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Last update 05 June 2007