University Lowbrow Astronomers

University Lowbrow Astronomers Book List
Cosmology and Astrophysics Book List

by Kristina Nyland and Dave Snyder

This is a list of intermediate astronomy books that discuss topics in astrophysics and/or cosmology. It is not a complete list. Some of these texts contain bibliographies that contain other references.


Adams, Fred. 2002. The Origins of Existence: How Life Emerged in the Universe. New York: The Free Press (A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.).

------. 2004. Our Living Multiverse: A Book of Genesis in 0+7 Chapters. New York: The Free Press (A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.).

Despite the different titles, these two books are identical. Dr. Adams discusses how the universe evolved from the time of the big bang, through the creation of stars, galaxies, planets, and eventually life.

Adams, Fred and Laughlin, Greg. 1999. The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity. New York: The Free Press (A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.).

A discussion of one theory of the distant future of the universe. In the club newsletter, Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers, there is an article “Saturday Morning’s Strange Realities” by Christopher Sarnecki, November, 1997 that summarizes the main ideas in this book.

Ferris, Timothy. 1997. The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report. New York: Simon and Schuster.

This book is for anyone interested in cosmology, astronomy, or physics. It covers chapters on inflation and the beginning of the universe(s), dark matter, space itself and the large scale structure of the universe, the evolution of the cosmos, symmetry, and “quantum weirdness.”

Greene, Brian. 1999. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. New York: Vintage Books (A Division of Random House, Inc).

Two major ideas of 20th century physics, namely general relativity and quantum mechanics are in conflict: General relativity accurately predicts how very large objects interact and quantum mechanics accurately predicts the behavior of small objects. However, during the first 10-43 seconds after the big bang, both general relativity and quantum mechanics are needed. Attempts to make a single theory that encompasses both have been unsuccessful; that is until the invention of string theory.

String theory is still under development, but it seems to have the capacity to explain even the first 10-43 seconds. Brian Greene explains string theory in an easy to understand manner (including a chapter on black holes and another chapter on cosmology). There is essentially no mathematics (except for a few equations given in the end notes), a real accomplishment given that a complete description of string theory makes use of very specialized mathematics.

------. 2005. The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality. New York: Vintage Books (A Division of Random House, Inc).

Hawking, Stephen. 1996. The Illustrated A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books.

This book is a classic. Written 8 years after the original, its info is updated and it includes many photographs, computer images to clarify the text as well as a new chapter on worm holes and time travel. It’s one of my favorites!

------. 2001. The Universe in a Nutshell. New York: Bantam Books.

This covers many of the most recent ideas in cosmology in a short and easy to read book. Almost every page has a colorful illustration and some pages have more than one (in fact more space is devoted to illustrations than to text).

------. 2004. The Illustrated on the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Stephen Hawking took sample works of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Sir Issac Newton and Albert Einstein (all translated into English), then added pictures and some of his own explanations.

Kaku, Michio. 1994. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension. New York: Anchor Books.

The title of this book describes its content quite well. This book contains many mathematical ideas (though one need not know very much about mathematics) and deals with a lot of quantum mechanics, the history of “GUTs”, detailed descriptions of superstrings, and comparisons that attempt to allow the reader to visualize multiple dimensions.

Levy, David H., editor. 2000. The Scientific American Book of the Cosmos. New York: St. Martins Press.

A collection of astronomy and cosmology articles written for Scientific American, many written by some of the most influential scientists of the 20th century such as Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, Erwin Schrödinger and Carl Sagan. David Levy, who edited this volume included articles that discussed recent developments as well as older articles so the reader could gain an appreciation for how various ideas have progressed over time.

David Levy made excellent choices, the book is easy to read. He starts with articles on using telescopes to view to heavens, the ideas of Albert Einstein, Quantum Mechanics and the evolution of the universe. He then takes us on journey through galaxies, black holes, stars, comets and planets. Next there are several articles on the search for life on other planets. He finishes with a set of articles which show how an understanding of atoms, molecules and quarks are necessary to understand how the universe works.

Unfortunately it is not always obvious how old each article is (they neglected to include this information, so the reader has to figure this out from other clues). Also there is no index, the book could benefit from one.

Peacock, John A. 2003. Cosmological Physics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

This is a book aimed at advanced undergraduates and/or graduate students in Physics and Astronomy. It assumes a solid understanding of mathematics and physics. The goal of the book is to show how a Physics perspective is important to understand modern Cosmology. It covers a range of subjects including General Relativity, Black Holes, the Early Universe (including the formation of Stars and Galaxies), measuring ages/distances of astronomical objects, Quantum Mechanics and how it relates to Cosmology, Dark Matter, Galaxies and the Cosmic Background Radation. While there are plenty of equations, the author stresses that an intuitive understanding of what the equations mean is as important as the equations themselves, and is easier to read than other books of its type (at least for readers with some physics and math background).

Pickover, Clifford A. 1996. Black Holes: A Traveler’s Guide. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

This book is about 200 pages and is quite technical. It contains many equations and computer programming information for those who may want to run simulations of black hole scenarios on their home computers (of course, one can easily ignore all of this and read for the information, as I did). It deals with EVERYTHING you could ever dream of knowing about black holes (without a degree in astronomy/physics). It starts out with the basics but some impressive chapter titles are: Gravitational Wave Recoil, Quantum Foam, Gravitational Distension Near a Black Hole’s Heart, Gravitational Time Dilation, A Black Hole’s Gravitational Blueshift, etc., etc. Readers should be warned: the author attempted to create a fictional group of characters telling their story of an encounter with a black hole. It’s a sad attempt but the information and explanations are excellent.

Rees, Martin. 1997. Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others. Reading, Massachusetts: Helix Books.

The topics of this book are very similar to those in The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe(s) Report mentioned above. This book, however, concentrates more on many theoretical topics (i.e., monopoles, mobius strips, superstrings) and is easier to read because each chapter is subdivided into “articles” a few pages in length.

------. 2000. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe. New York: Basic Books.

The author discusses six numbers that affect the evolution of the universe but do not seem to be fixed by other numbers or by known laws of physics. He asks the question: If these numbers were different, would the universe as a whole be different? By asking this question, Martin Rees takes us on an incredible journey through modern cosmology and astrophysics. We discover that seemingly esoteric things such as the strength of the strong force (which holds atomic nuclei together) or the amount of matter in the universe are very important. If the author is correct, even small changes in any of these numbers would result in a very different universe, a universe without life. The book is non-mathematical and very easy to follow.

Scientific American, the editors of. 1999. The Scientific American Book of Astronomy. New York: Lyons Press.

Articles on Black Holes, Exterterrestrial Life, Galactic Explosions, Gamma-Ray Bursters and much more.

Taylor, Edwin F. and Wheeler, John Archibald. 1966. Spacetime Physics. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company.

A good intermediate level introduction to relativity theory. Requires algebra and trigonometry; I only noticed one place where calculus was used. I agree with the summary printed on the cover: “A brief, readable exposition of modern relativity theory. Illustrated and amplified by a wealth of problems, puzzles, and paradoxes and their detailed solutions.”


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