Martin Rees: Before the Beginning
Well written, a good read but some flaws.
A good read but, I have a few quibbles so 8/10 only.
This is a book about Cosmology from a big perspective. It takes a view on the very existance of our universe. How it may have come into being and what there may be beyond it in time and space.
Of course, these matters are not the subject of simple experiments but it is remarkable that our understanding of nature allows such speculation.
This book is aimed at a non-technical audience and the overall style is clear and the arguments lucid.
The author starts with an introduction that explains our universe as it has been understood through the main developments of physics in the last one hundred years. The sections on gravitation effects, ranging from stellar collapse to massive black holes missing mass and expansion were presented with great clarity.
However, if you are looking for a book that talks about "Before the Beginning", you may just find yourself wondering why you read the first nine chapters. They are a good, non-technical introduction but they are about our universe from the big bang to the present time.
The last 40% of the book actually contains material hinted at in the title. The author makes the point that our universe is remarkable in the way that it is fit for human life. He then links this observation to the current thinking about the origins of the universe.
Perhaps, our universe is one of many. Very, very many and this one just happens to suit the development of life but there may be many universes "out there" that are still born in the sense that they cannot support life.
Reese explains how space time inflation may lead to universes with different laws of physics and how universes may spawn new universes through the formation of black holes. At the end of this arguement, he talks about the "Anthropomorphic Reasoning" by which we can understand this. These ideas are very speculative and are disputed by many others. Reese achieves a good balance by writing about these disputes.
If you want a book that will give you the current state of the art view of cosmology together with some fascinating speculation about fuuture developments then this is just the job.
I can only level a small number of criticisms at the book. I suspect that most of the target audience will already be familiar with the first 60% of the book so, perhaps, it would have been better to condense that material. The "Further Reading" list at the end just has a collection of titles and authors with no expansion on the contents of these references. Some more information here would be a huge help to readers wondering what to look at next.