Measuring Eternity: the Search for the Beginning of Time
All cultures have their ideas of how the world came into being. Measuring Eternity looks at how our current view of the age of the world and of the universe has been developed. It starts from early ideas about the universe and goes via Bishop Ussher leading up to the latest cosmological research. Gorst is clearly an experienced science writer, and the book is suitable for a wide audience. As well as appealing to those of you in the habit of reading science books, it would also make an interesting read for anyone wanting to see how science has interacted with religious and other ideas over the centuries.
In a society dominated by the church, the obvious way to find the date of the beginning of the Universe was to study the bible. Gradually it was realised that the formation of geological strata, and the distribution of fossils within them, could be used to estimate the age of the earth. This came into conflict, not only with religion, but also with physicists who estimated how fast earth's interior would have cooled down. The latter disagreement was resolved by the discovery of radioactivity, which as a bonus also provided new methods of dating rocks. The last part of the book moves on to the question of the age of the universe. One thing the book brought home to me is that while anyone can argue about such matters, its the people who go into laborious detail who actually make a difference, whether it be Bishop Ussher or the supernovae teams of the 1990's