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About “The Universe in the Rearview Mirror”

The Universe in the Rearview MirrorHow Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality

by Dave GoldbergThe Universe in the Rearview Mirror is a brisk, light-hearted, humorous tour of symmetry and the universe at large. Whether you’re a physics neophyte or an accomplished amateur, you’ll learn something new about symmetry and the big “why” questions that plagued you when you were young:

  • Why are you made of matter instead of antimatter?
  • Why is it dark at night? (And why is that even a question worth asking?)
  • Why shouldn’t I teleport a spoonful of neutron star into my cargo hold?
  • And – should your TARDIS leave you stranded – why does the arrow of time point one way and not the other?

You’ll be taken on a warp-speed tour through anti-matter, evil twins, and other hidden symmetries, and come out the other side with a new perspective on how the universe really works. You’ll learn about ansibles and anti-telephones, quarks and quantum mechanics. From ancient understanding of the celestial spheres, through brand-new discoveries like the Higgs Boson to yet unknown Grand Unified Theories, this book will transform the way you think about the universe.

You can even take a quiz afterwards!

Accolades and Awards

  • Barnes and Noble, “Best Books of July, 2013 List.

    Readers who fear that physics is an unapproachable subject have never met Dave Goldberg… A Carl Sagan for a new generation.

  • Powells “Staff Pick.
  • New Scientist, “Best Science Books of 2013 List

    Discover the “most profound idea in science”, formulated by little-known mathematician Emmy Noether, in this hymn to symmetry’s fundamental place in physics.

  • Cocktail Party Physics, “Baker’s Dozen: Best 2013 Books for the Physics Fan.”

    I’m a huge fan of Goldberg’s Ask a Physicist posts at io9, and he brings that same engaging, populist, down-to-earth sensibility to his first book on the daunting topic of mathematical symmetries.

  • Shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award

What people saying: Editorial Reviews

From Nature (subscription required):

Who knew symmetry could be so brilliantly entertaining? Physicist Dave Goldberg slings the reader straight in at the deep end of this big physics concept, but with enough masterly wit to keep you afloat. If you’ve ever longed to know the nitty-gritty on antimatter; puzzled over the exclusion principle; woken up in a cold sweat wondering why you are not a “sentient cloud of helium”; gritted your teeth over the cosmological principle; or been terrified by the beasts of the ‘particle zoo’, this is for you.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

…An informative, math-free, and completely entertaining look at the concept of symmetry in physics… Throughout his fascinating discussion, Goldberg’s writing remains accessible and full of humor…Seasoning his expose’ with pop culture references that range from Doctor Who to Lewis Carroll to Angry Birds, Goldberg succeeds in making complex topics clear with a winning style.

From Discover Magazine:

You shouldn’t exist. Don’t take it personally –- nothing should exist. But at some point, around 10^{-35} of a second after the Big Bang, there was a slight shift in balance and, long story short, all of the “stuff” of the universe was born. Physicist Goldberg takes a road trip through time and space trying to answer the big questions about existence, including why any of us are here. Mathematical symmetries lie at the heart of many of the answers, but Goldberg offers math-free guideposts along the way in this witty and accessible read. Tip: Don’t skip the copious footnotes, packed with geek humor.

From Kirkus:

Goldberg delivers relentlessly cheerful but comprehensible explanations of a dozen profound features of the universe.

Barnes and Noble lists us as one of their “Best of July”:

Readers who fear that physics is an unapproachable subject have never met Dave Goldberg. The Physics department director at Drexel University and author (A User’s Guide to the Universe) has a knack for explaining cosmological matters without brandishing higher mathematics or demanding post-graduate acumen. His new book reveals, among other things, what is so super about supersymmetry and what’s the matter with antimatter. One of its most thrilling revelations, however, concerns a largely forgotten female physicist. German mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935) earned the plaudits of Einstein and others, but she seldom receives credit for her truly breakthrough theories about the connection between symmetry and conservation. A Carl Sagan for a new generation.

From New Scientist:

Goldberg has a fine ear for the absurd, and is deft at revealing why things we take for granted, such as the equality of gravitational and inertial mass, are strange and not obvious at all.

In the end, Goldberg has a good stab at fulfilling his ambitions. His enthusiasm may sink into scattiness at times but it carries you on a ride through picturesque bits of science. We zoom by Maxwell’s demon, quantum teleporters and black holes, then plunge down for a glimpse of the secret underground, where physics and reality rest on foundations of pure symmetry.

It pains me to say it this way, but it’s a bit like a kick-ass rollercoaster built through Dwarrowdelf in Middle-earth.

From Mario Livio, reviewing for Nature Physics (subscription required). It’s quite long, but there are some very good bits:

Goldberg discusses a wide range of topics, such as the excess of matter over antimatter in our Universe, the nature of time and its relation to the second law of thermodynamics, special and general relativity, the concepts of quantum mechanical spin and entanglement, and the recently discovered Higgs boson and its role in endowing elementary particles with mass. All of this is done with great humour, employing relatively simple, easy- to-understand analogies.

Goldberg’s style is engaging, and he doesn’t hesitate to admit at certain points that the subject is intricate, or that even the scientists don’t know the answers to many questions…

The Universe in the Rearview Mirror makes for a great read for anyone interested in understanding what it is that makes our Universe a wonderfully complex system. Whether looking forward through the windshield, or backward in the rear-view mirror, Goldberg is an excellent guide to bring you to your destination — to a profound appreciation for the beauty of the cosmos.

From Physics World:

An engaging whirlwind tour of much that constitutes modern physics.

What people are saying: Blurbs

Danica McKellar, actress and New York Times bestselling author of Math Doesn’t Suck:

This is a fun and fascinating examination of core physics concepts, explained with humor and levity – and which even includes a look at one of physics’ unsung heroines, a giant upon whose shoulders many physicists have stood: Emmy Noether!

Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at Caltech, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe:

Most physics books can’t really be described as `rollicking,’ but most physics books aren’t written by Dave Goldberg. This book is fun, irreverent, and enjoyable, but also very truthful and illuminating. Buy it for your friend who was always scared of physics, especially if that friend is yourself.

Annalee Newitz, editor and time distortion field operator for io9.com, as well as the author of the upcoming Scatter, Adapt, Remember: How Humans will Survive a Mass Extinction:

Reading this book is like taking a class with the most awesome science professor ever. Goldberg answers the physics questions you secretly want to ask, like whether you’ll ever have a TARDIS and what would happen if Earth were sucked into a black hole. You’ll have so much fun finding out that you won’t realize that you’ve just learned how space and time work at a fundamental level. A must read for anybody who wants to understand the nature of the universe — with jokes.

J. Richard Gott, Professor of Astrophysics, Princeton University, and author of Sizing Up the Universe: The Cosmos in Perspective:

Whether unveiling the mysteries of the Higgs boson, visiting Antworld, or cracking the kaon koan, Dave Goldberg’s masterful explanations of how symmetry shapes the universe will enthrall and enlighten.

John Allen Paulos, Mathematics Professor at Temple University and bestselling author of Innumeracy and Beyond Numeracy:

The scope of Dave Goldberg’s The Universe in the Rearview Mirror is almost as vast as the physical universe it does a most impressive job of describing. Employing an engagingly informal and often humorous voice, he explains some very profound physical ideas, ranging from the the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Maxwell’s demon to Olbers’s paradox of the dark night sky and the mysteries of quantum entaglement. Perhaps most importantly he limns the under-appreciated work of Emmy Noether whom Einstein described as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” Her principle that every symmetry gives rise to a conserved quantity unifies much of physics and Goldberg makes clear why and how.

Prof. Priyamvada Natarajan, Departments of Astronomy & Physics and Chair, Womens Faculty Forum, Yale University:

Unputdownable! This book is tremendous fun for any reader curious about our bizarre and beautiful universe. If only the profound concepts and laws of physics were presented in schools in the clear and fun way Dave Goldberg has in this book, we would attract many more people to science early.

Paul Halpern, author of Edge of the Universe: A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond:

Dave Goldberg’s entertaining excursion through science’s hall of mirrors offers a funhouse of fascinating curiosities, mind-bending paradoxes, and clever humor. With a friendly, accessible style, his witty anecdotes, evocative illustrations, and elegant examples magnificently elucidate the importance of symmetry in physics, astronomy, math and other disciplines. A powerful reflection on the power of reflection!

What people are saying: Blogs

Universe Today:

At most times in Rearview Mirror, Goldberg’s style feels more like a discussion than a book – it’s as if your delightfully nerdy friend from college (the one with a knack for identifying stars, he’s convinced it’s a total turn-on) came over for dinner one night to talk about his favorite topic – the mysteries of the cosmos.

From Infodad:

Goldberg is a simply wonderful guide to and through all the thickets of complexity and obscurity that one encounters along the road of trying to understand what makes everything tick.

From Lights in the Dark:

Even though the subject matter is undeniably complex and often abstract, Goldberg does a great job at describing it in ways that are not only easy to understand but also shamelessly entertaining.

From Thought Skipper (who, as a tribute, even footnoted his review):

Goldberg, an astrophysicist by trade and frequently asked physicist on io9.com, skillfully delivers conceptually dense material with levity, in a familiar format well suited for the general scientifically-minded readership, and with an often tongue-in-cheek style much like I imagine he employs when teaching his undergraduates at Drexel University.

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