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The End of Everything (Astrophyiscally Speaking)

Mark Mzyk | January 7, 2021

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) is, as the title makes clear, a book about endings. Specifically ours and the universes. But to tell the story of the ending it must, like all good books, start at the beginning. Katie Mack does a wonderful job outlining what scientists know about the Big Bang and how they know it. She then uses this as a jumping off point to expound on what this means for the various ways the universe might end, and how scientists know this.

Through clear language and a willingness to take short digressions she’s able to make the science clear and fascinating. She goes just deep enough to ensure she’s explaining the concepts she’s talking about, but she never goes so deep that it’s not accessible. Along the way she uses footnotes to great effect to expound on points, provide a side note, and inject humor. The humor is much appreciated and gives the book levity. This is especially appreciated because the book can be heavy readying as you think about the fact that she telling how literally everything will end and depending on your disposition might make you contemplate your own mortality.

Four primary potential ways of it all ending are covered – Big Crunch, Heat Death, Big Rip, Vacuum Decay. Each chapter builds on the previous as the scientific explanations for one possibility lead into the next. Along the way Katie Mack freely admits where science is currently ignorant. She covers the areas of controversies and where the math and observations don’t currently agree and how that is leading to further exploration. It’s a well done journey though the scientific process and how it builds over time.

A final possibility of the universe ending is included in a chapter called Bounce. This is where the book starts to falter a bit. In exploring this area the underlying theories come from different starting points than the primary chapters, so Katie Mack has to back track and try and cover some of these concepts in just a single chapter. This necessitates a shorter treatment that is harder to follow and doesn’t have the benefit of the build that the previous chapters benefits from. The content is still good, but it was a change that was harder to grasp and follow.

The final chapter of the book then looks forward to the upcoming research and the questions scientists are trying to answer to continue pushing forward. A lot of ground has been covered in the book and it leaves me looking forward to where science is taking us while giving me a deeper appreciation for all we’ve learned along the way. Even if the ultimate result is the end of everything.

If you enjoyed Katie Mack’s book and want to keep up with the latest goings on in science while not needing to read scientific papers, I’ve found Quanta Magazine to be an excellent source of accessible and well written articles.

The post can also be found on Goodreads.