Top positive review
an enjoyable account of a key area of modern science
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2014
Dark matter and dark energy have been enlisted these dark entities as catch-alls to account for a lot of what we do not understand about the past and future of the universe. "The 4% Universe" is a stylishly written account of the development of these concepts, the researchers, and of the tensions and the politics in astronomy and particle physics that have enabled our present level of incomplete understanding. The dichotomy between theoreticians and experimentalists pales against the one-time rivalry, often intolerance, between quantum physicists and astronomers. Panek's frank and chatty style makes a work of exhaustive research readable and paints a memorable and life-like picture of radio telescopy pioneers, the domestic duty juggling pragmatism and cool intellect of Vera Rubin, through a pantheon of hard-working physicists to the Nobel laureates, Perlmutter and Schmidt. Panek's characterisations are priceless, as are his expositions of the deals and behind-the-scenes lobbying. The Notes, Works Cited and Index are thorough and helpful.
The story of quasars, supernovae, standard candles, the inflationary universe, the accelerating universe, the many phenomena and theories that link astronomy to cosmology: these are all covered by Panek carefully with minimal technical contortions. The historical account is what makes this book, other books may be an easier read to clarify the technical aspects of dark matter and dark energy. It was published before the Nobel Prize was awarded to Schmidt and Perlmutter, but this takes little from the account. It would be a treat if Panek tackled these topics again in a decade or so, even as a revised edition.