66 million years ago, an object the size of a city hurtled from outer space at incredible speed, crashed into Earth and destroyed the dinosaurs, along with three-quarters of the other species on the planet.

Where did it come from and why? And how is this connected to dark matter-perhaps the mysterious elusive fabric of the Universe, the ‘stuff’ that interacts with gravity like ordinary matter but doesn’t emit or absorb light.

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs tells the story of the Big Bang theory, cosmological inflation, the make up of the Universe and our Solar System’s place in it. It’s about mass extinctions through the ages, what we know has hit the Earth and what might hit us in the future. And it explores the radical idea that dark matter might ultimately have been responsible for the dinosaur’s extinction.

A horizon-expanding tour of the cosmos that blends what we know about the Universe with new thinking, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs is a book full of wonders, from acclaimed theoretical physicist Lisa Randall.

I’m not a scientist and certainly not a theoretical physicist, but I consider myself a fascinated amateur and have always been intrigued when hearing of new discoveries from CERN and of course was enthralled to watch Tim Peake travel up to the Space Station. I really am one of those people who look up at the night sky and wonder what’s up there, how does it stay in place, how did we get here? So it’s very lucky for me that Lisa Randall’s fabulous Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs tackles just those questions, and in such a way that I don’t need to get a PhD to understand it.

At 372 information packed pages the book is as weighty as its subject, but that’s understandable since the subject is the whole of existence from the Big Bang theory, the make-up of the Universe and our Solar System’s place in it. Where A Brief History of Time (a title Randall references from the start with her ‘Brief History of Detecting Dark Matter’) sometimes left me behind, Randall has exploited her clear talent for presenting complex and sometimes entirely theoretical ideas and concepts in a conversational tone which never talked down to me, and her recapping of key theories and reminders of ideas already poked at before and after each major theme was refreshing. The book is segmented into three parts, 21 clear chapters and plenty of subheadings which make it nearly impossible to lose my way through some of the more complicated ideas explored and though theoretical physics is a continuously developing and changing filed, she succeeded in placing the latest thinking in a historical context which helped me get a grip of the process, helpful for those short patches where the density of material, much like Dark Matter itself, became almost unimaginable.

Her central dilemma is an interesting one; how do you describe and explain something which no-one can see? Even scientists in the field are still looking, so what are the chances of making it intelligible to a lay audience? Randall tackles this huge task through clever and relevant analogies with everyday situations, for example, in her chapter ‘Socially Connected Dark Matter’ she compares the compilation of solar systems to the development and growth of urban cities, and this is the best description I’ve read about how matter gathers together to create more and more ideal circumstances until a tipping point begins to counterbalance the positive impact, a light-bulb moment for me.

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs will stay on my bedside cabinet for a while yet, being the kind of book that is so well laid out I’d be confident in dipping back in as the ideas sift through my imagination. The story of exploration and dedicated clue-following that has led to what we currently know is as exciting and at points as gripping as a great detective story. I certainly will never be able to look up at the sky in the same way again now that my horizons have been expanded in such an enthralling way, even if any book which describes all life under a chapter heading of ‘The Short Glorious Lives of Comets’ is one I want to read. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs will captivate anyone who has ever looked up and wondered what on Earth is going on up there.
Review URL: http://onegiantread.literatureworks.org.uk/909-2/?platform=hootsuite


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