The Big Bang and How We Came To Know It.

The newest book by Simon Singh, simply entitled “Big Bang”, has garnered many fantastic reviews (for example, Scientific American, Toronto Globe and Mail, Guardian). I haven’t seen it yet, but I have been a fan of Singh’s ever since receiving his book “Fermat’s Enigma” as a gift many years ago. Among all the wild (and often poorly written) hoopla surrounding the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, Singh wrote a book that a) didn’t talk down to you like you were an idiot, b) featured a enthusiastic, narrative style that read more like a slow-building detective novel than a book about math, and c) delved deeply into the personalities of the main characters, even going so far as to reconstruct email conversations between the principles in order to build the drama and excitement in their own words.

Furthermore, this article implies that Singh’s book contains some long overdue popular credit for Ralph Alpher. One could say that Alpher is to 20th century physics what Rosalind Franklin is to 20th century biology — and then some. Franklin may have taken the X-Ray photographs of DNA, but she couldn’t properly interpret her own data. Alpher not only provided theoretical justification for the Big Bang (a term coined by his Ph.D. supervisor George Gamow), but he also wrote papers about how to experimentally verify his theories. That experiment was eventually performed in 1965, with the detection of the cosmic background radiation by Penzias and Wilson. Both of them were unaware that Alpher, along with Gamow and Robert Herman, had predicted the existence of this radiation seventeen years earlier. They even received the 1978 Nobel Prize for their work. Alpher and his collaborators got nothing.

For further reading, this classic Discover article recounts Alpher’s life and work in more detail. And presumably, so does Simon Singh’s new book.