Wrinkles in Time

ISBN: 0380720442
ISBN 13: 9780380720446
By: George Smoot Keay Davidson

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About this book

Behold the Handwriting of GodAstrophysicist and adventurer George Smoot spent twenty years pursuing the "holy grail of science" -- a relentless hunt that led him from the rain forests of Brazil to the frozen wastes of Antarctica. For decades he persevered -- struggling against time, the elements, the forces of ignorance and bureaucratic insanity. And finally, on April 23, 1992, he made a startling announcement that would usher in a new scientific age. For George Smoot and his dedicated team of Berkeley researchers had proven the unprovable -- uncovering, inarguably and for all time, the secrets of the creation of the Universe.

Reader's Thoughts


As someone who is interested in cosmology and astronomy, I found this book to be very interesting. Smoot does a very good job of explaining the history of cosmology and the background to COBE, his satellite to study the cosmic microwave background radiation. He also adds a little bit of personal experiences to lighten the tone - so it's not ALL science-speak. And then he rounds it off by talking about the experiment and its findings. The book is not very difficult to read, like some science books can be.I noticed that another reviewer made the comment that Smoot is very self-congratulatory. I would have to agree that, by his writing, he thinks very highly of himself and his accomplishment. But I did not find this to be distracting. He was proud of what he had done and rightly so; this tone did not detract from the book for me.

G.R. Reader

Almost everything in this book is true. My lawyer strongly suggests I should leave it at that.

Nick Black

This was a good introduction to the pop aspects of quantum fluctuation, COBE's confirmation of quadrapolar background radiation following Penzias-and-Wilson's discovery of the isotropic 2.725K CMBR (as immortalized on the back of an XKCD shirt I bought the day of release -- the front reads: "SCIENCE: IT WORKS, BITCHES". Huzzah! Popular garb down at the Institute of Technology), and the exciting cosmological research of the late twentieth century. On the con side: Smoot is a ruthless self-propagandist with an ego the size of the observable universe (necessary, it seems, to work at LBNL); his constant self-congratulation was already nauseating to read at 16 (although not so bad as Michio Kaku). When I went back and reread this a few years ago, knowing much more about the drama and intrigues behind COBE (especially as exposed around the 2006 awarding of Smoot's (deserved) Nobel prize), it made me physically ill.This book is worth reading, and George Smoot's one hell of a scientist, but this could all have been done a lot better. Check out John Mather's book The Very First Light for the rest of the story.


I am warned that I should take this book with a pinch of salt, since Smoot may not be telling us the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But dammit, I want to believe him. This is what science should be like: go out and look for the data, no matter what it costs you. At several points, you just can't help comparing him with Indiana Jones.Smoot started off in the early 70s as a particle physicist, where the norm was already for people to work together in big teams. But he was ambitious, and thought he'd never get anywhere as an anonymous member of a giant collaboration. He looked around and got interested in observational cosmology, which was finally starting to take off. In particular, he was greatly influenced by Peebles's book on the subject. People had just found the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation - the faint radiation coming from all over the sky that was generally assumed to come from the Big Bang - but no one knew much about it. Peebles urged researchers to find out more.Smoot started doing cosmology, though he didn't immediately get involved with the CMBR. His first project was an attempt to detect antimatter atoms in cosmic rays, which at the time was another hot topic: some people thought there was a lot of antimatter out there just waiting to be discovered. Maybe there were antimatter suns with antimatter planets orbiting them. (This is for example the premise of Jack Williamson's SF novel Seetee Ship ). Now, it's hard to remember that it was ever more than science-fiction, but then it was taken seriously. Smoot set out to look for antimatter in cosmic rays, flying experiments in balloons to get them high enough to have a chance of catching something. There were all sorts of exotic accidents. One balloon crashes on a farm in the Badlands, and they have to retrieve the tapes from the wreckage. At the end, they have tens of thousands of events recorded, and they analyze them all to try and figure out if they've found any antimatter. They can explain every event as normal, with one single exception; as far as they can see, it's possible that it's antimatter. But the odds are only three to one in their favor, so they decide to run a bunch more balloon experiments. They never find another possible antimatter event - so it's a negative result, but an interesting one which more or less refutes the idea that there are antimatter stars.As you can see, Smoot is a careful guy who knows how to get things done. He then starts a new project which finally does get to looking at the CMBR; he wants to use it to establish a universal frame of reference, so that he can measure the absolute velocity of the Earth. Everyone tells him this can't be done, since it means measuring temperature differences in the CMBR of around a thousandth of a degree, and there is no way to fly the experiment. But Smoot has heard that old U-2 spy planes are possibly being made available for scientific research purposes, he works his connections, he persuades people to do the incredibly tricky engineering, and he gets data which indicates that the Earth's velocity (indeed, our galaxy's velocity) is far greater than it should be, which has many interesting consequences for cosmology. Unfortunately, skeptics argue that it could be a false signal, and the only way to find out is to redo the experiment in the Southern Hemisphere. He somehow ships everything down to Peru, bribes and wheedles his way into getting approval, and collects his data. It turns out that the signal is genuine.I haven't even got to the COBE satellite mission, the high point of the book, but you get the picture. In a way, I don't care if Smoot is stretching the truth or exaggerating his role. I think people like him are essential when you have a new field that's just opening up; another example that springs to mind is Galileo, clearly one of his heroes. Smoot advanced the state of our understanding of the universe a great deal by being willing to do whatever it took to find answers to questions that many people thought were too difficult to investigate. He learned tricky theoretical ideas and turned them into concrete experiments, he put together crack teams of engineers and forced them to build devices with ridiculous levels of robustness and accuracy, he sat in budget meetings and persuaded people who didn't like him to give him money, and when necessary he went in person to the Amazon jungle or the South Pole to get the observations he needed. And all the time, he was careful never to believe he'd found something when it was possible that all he had was wishful thinking. He tried his damnedest to eliminate uncertainties, and at one point towards the end of the COBE project he offered a substantial reward to any member of the team who could show why the current results were not correct. Maybe he wasn't 100% honest, but neither was Galileo. For my money, Smoot will go down in history as another truly first-rate experimental scientist.

Jan Graf von der Pahlen

An incredible read: Talking about the discovery and investigation of the cosmic microwave background and the resulting consequences to the physics community would have been fascinating enough. Yet the author actually gives a concise and understandable introduction to cosmology and astronomy with many useful illustrations, making this a truly enjoyable read for a student of physics.


It is interesting, but it gets me tired. So I read a little and leave it alone, and them pick it again...

Bill H

An interesting memoir covering the more practical side of cosmology, so to speak -- the nuts and bolts of actually carrying out cutting-edge experimentation. And yes, I'll happily admit I found this book thanks to Sheldon Cooper: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXV4Cw...


I finally got around to reading this because it was referenced in About Time . This was not nearly so well written, but it was an interesting companion read nonetheless.Both book cover some of the same background, bringing the reader up to speed on certain necessary concepts and the history of astronomy and cosmology. The focus here is a bit more narrow, however, as well it should be since the author is dealing with the story of his own contributions to the science, rather than providing an overview. Still, it felt a bit more disjointed, jumping through history seemingly at random to set up elements of what amounts to Smoot's professional biography as much as, if not more than, the story of the COBE project and its sister-studies.Nevertheless, that personal touch made it a more... well, personal story, which assuredly is less dry than the usual science book. Astronomy can seem like a very straightforward study, and not particularly exciting in any way other than the wonder of the stars, but the stories of Smoot's failures as well as successes, and the obstacles—financial, administrative, and competitive—he and his fellows faced lend an air of urgency that scientific discovery tales often lack.Not to mention that I now have a much better understanding of the then-current evidence for and against the standard "big bang theory" of the origin of the cosmos. The two books together served well to stitch the fabric of space-time together in my mind in a way my academic studies never did.

Ishmael Seaward

Loved it, but then I'm a nerdy geek, or maybe a geeky nerd. I thought it was a good, straight-forward read on what was known when, and then what was done to add to the knowledge base. The end result is that the cosmic background radiation, once thought to be uniform, is not really uniform, but patchy. And the patches are where the galaxies were formed, which leads to the present day non-uniformity of the distribution of galaxies.


Spoiler Alert: COBE totally gives viable evidence of inflationary theory!This book is an accounting of science as it ought to be done. George Smoot was the project head of the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite that in the early nineties mapped the radiation discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1964. COBE's discovery of "Wrinkles" in this radiation gives a beautiful picture of what the universe must have looked like only 300,000 years after the Big Bang. So yes, dramatic evidence of a cosmological theory is always interesting, you say, but you've read A Brief History of Time, and you don't really need to know anything more about inflationary theory. This book is not about inflationary theory.This book is about doing research. It is about designing a satellite to be launched by the space shuttle only to have the Challenger explode and shuttles put on indefinite hold. It is about working obsessively to make every carefully designed instrument half of its original size in order to fit it on a Delta rocket. This book is about traveling to Antarctica for a month in order to rule out every other possibility before publishing your extremely promising data. Therefore, I would argue that this book isn't just about finding extremely compelling scientific information; this book is about conducting reasonable, responsible, resplendent science. I highly recommend it.

Erik Graff

This is a book on physical cosmology intended for the general public. After the briefest of introductions to the field the issue at hand resolves to defending the big bang theory by accounting for the formation of structured matter (galaxies, nebulae and the like) in the cosmos. The portion of this work done by Smoot and colleagues is detailed.In fact, much of this book would not be readily accessible to the general public. Personally, I found much of it dull and obscure, though I did appreciate his treatment of 'dark matter.'


this is one of the first popular science books I read -- I think it was an xmas gift from big brother.


Very good book if you like science and people who love it.


I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/10415997


a little heavy at times, but still pretty easy to follow along without a science degree in anything.

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