Martin Rees - Before The Beginning: Our Universe and Others

Based on the title, I thought I'd be reading a book about scientific evidence and speculations about what (may have) existed before the beginning of our universe. Instead, the book never mentions the topic! I don't think I've ever read a book before that doesn't deal with its main title.

Rees has written sort of a companion volume to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Much of the same territory is covered but seldom, if ever, repeated. For the most part, it is much more enjoyable, interesting, and clear when compared to Hawking's bestseller. As one reviewer stated, "this is the book for those who read A Brief History of Time and were still left wondering whether they quite had the whole picture".

The first half dozen chapters or so are excellent. In them we explore the Big Bang, astronomical scientific discoveries, Black Holes, gravity, interesting stars, and galactic structures. After that, things get a little more complicated and difficult to fully comprehend. A few topics, such as inflation and superstrings were covered on such a superficial level that it will be nearly impossible for someone without prior knowledge of the subjects to understand what is being covered (and why).

The final few chapters again become very thought provoking as Rees delves into the philosophy and speculation arena. Concepts covered therein such as time, possible physics in other universes, anthropic reasoning, and the multiverse (rather than universe) are sure to give your neurons an enjoyable workout. The "Further Reading" section at the end of the book is almost worthless because it isn't annotated. Included are both popular science titles and technical works which readers won't be able to distinguish between by title or author alone.

"There is a difference between those who want to feel we already understand the big picture and are upset by anything that doesn't fit in, and those who are excited by anything fundamentally new that might show up. I'm in the latter camp."
-- Sir Martin Rees in The Guardian

"Martin [Rees] is a scientific magician: he leaves you wondering: 'Where did he get that idea from?'"
-- George Efstathiou, cosmologist, Oxford University, in The Sunday Telegraph

"Rees is to be commended for telling the unadorned story of the latest developments in cosmology in a forthright and compelling manner."
-- Joseph Silk in Nature

"If you haven't read a single cosmology book, this is a good place to start."
-- John D. Barrow in New Scientist