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EigenState
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Message 6218 - Posted: 24 May 2008, 18:05:53 UTC

Greetings,

I would like to request that the scientific team post a list of suggested reading materials for those of us that would like to undertake a systematic study of cosmology.

Assuming that Peacock is not the best introductory intellectual resource for non-specialists, perhaps the list could be advantageously organized into Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced categories.

Best regards,
EigenState

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Message 6221 - Posted: 25 May 2008, 9:05:43 UTC

Once I get back, I can get the name of the Cosmology textbook I used a couple semesters back.
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Message 6223 - Posted: 25 May 2008, 16:53:27 UTC

Thank you Scott, that would be a decent start.

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EigenState

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Message 6283 - Posted: 4 Jun 2008, 19:46:00 UTC

Greetings,

Since the Principal Investigator appears to have vanished, here is a list of books on cosmology.

Unfortunately, that list does not provide any indicators of the level of intellectual complexity of any of the works cited.

Best regards,
EigenState

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Message 6284 - Posted: 5 Jun 2008, 0:48:20 UTC
Last modified: 5 Jun 2008, 0:50:11 UTC

Foundations of Modern Cosmology

This is the textbook I was talking about. It\'s an excellent introduction to cosmology, although it doesn\'t cover the newest of the new.
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Message 6285 - Posted: 5 Jun 2008, 1:33:48 UTC

Thank you Scott!

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EigenState

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Message 9517 - Posted: 17 Oct 2011, 8:04:08 UTC - in response to Message 6218.

Hello Eigenstate,

Here is a list with a few titles:

1) The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
2) The Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded, Stephen Hawking
3) The Universe in a Nutshell, stephen Hawking
4) The Runaway Universe: The Race to Find the Future of the Cosmos , Donald Goldsmith

This list contains a few titles that are quite accessible to the non-specialist. Each of these books approaches the subject from a different angle. I will add more titles soon.

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Message 9536 - Posted: 19 Oct 2011, 19:43:32 UTC - in response to Message 9517.

I would like to elaborate a little bit on the list of readings I have provided above and give some more details about the emphasis of each one of them. I will also add more titles and sicussion regularly.

Brain Greene (1963-) is an American theoretical physicist who teaches at Columbia University (New York City). A brilliant theoretical physicist, he is known to the larger public through his science popularizing books such as "Icarus at the Edge of Time", "The Fabric of the Cosmos", "The Hidden Reality" and "The Elegant Universe". In the opening chapters of the "Elegant Universe", Brian Greene explains the conceptual foundations of the Special Theory of Relativity, the General Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics. He also explains the inconsistencies that arise when relativity and quantum physics are applied in the same context.

After giving a thorough explanation of some fundamental aspects of relativity and the relevant aspects of quantum physics, Brian Greene jumps into the heart of the book and starts elaborating on superstring theory, its relevance to our understanding of the universe, and why physicists care about it (why the physicists who care about it do). Giving the mathematical complexity of the theory (for example, its connection to topology), and the way it diverges from other physical theories, Greene does a superb job at explaining its gist to his readers in a way that clearly reveals the its potential as well as points to the obstacles that face it. The issue of multi-dimensionality is discussed in a way that will captivate a reader's imagination.

Brian Greene explains the technicalities of his subject matter without overwhelming his readers. I feel that this book is suitable for a lay reader with a serious interest in science who is willing to put some extra work to understand the physics involved. The conceptual frame work of relativity is simple enough, but it could be deceptively so and illusive at times. It is a little bit harder to talk about quantum mechanics in the sense one approaches classical mechanics or relativity, and although it is a well-understood and well-confirmed area of physics, it does not easily render itself to philosophical discussion the way relativity and classical mechanics, for example, do. I feel Brian Greene succeeds at doing this better than many other authors I have come across. Overall, I find his works quite captivating and entertaining.

There is a PBS program with the same title. You can find information about it here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/

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Message 9542 - Posted: 19 Oct 2011, 23:10:18 UTC - in response to Message 9536.
Last modified: 19 Oct 2011, 23:18:25 UTC

I have mentioned the Special Theory of Relativity in the previous post, which has reminded me of a wonderful book on the subject that I came across last year and which I feel might be of interest to some of you.

The best non-mathematical treatise on the special theory of relativity I have seen so far is the Special Theory of Relativity by David Boom (Routledge Classics). The book is very unique in that it explains subtle aspects of the STR that are usually not addressed in the more technical treatises I have seen. For example, Boom dedicates a chapter to the famous E = MC^2, and explains some subtly illusive issues with the all-too-famous mass-energy equivalence and explains what it really means for mass and energy two be two faces of the same coin. He starts the book with the historical background against which the STR emerged, and then goes on to a full treatment of the essential elements of the theory. He discusses the Lorentz Theory of the Electron and explains the way in Einstein could be claimed as the true creator of STR as opposed to others who worked on similar problems around the same time (Lorentz, Poincare, etc).

The last essay is dedicated to concepts of space and time and how they arise in child cognition. It sheds light on the STR from a psychological point of view, taking the work of the Swiss epistemologist Jean Piaget as a background. David Boom's profound, concise and entertaining treatment makes for a very good read. Although the algebra gets involved at times, one could easily skim through it and still follow the author's thesis reasonably well. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who seeks a comprehensive and accissible treatment of STR from one source.

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Message 9560 - Posted: 22 Oct 2011, 23:04:05 UTC

For anyone interested in a bit more rigor than those texts already mentioned above, I highly recommend,
Introduction to Cosmology, Ryden
An Introduction to Astrophysics, Carroll & Ostlie

Both are great reads for anyone interested in cosmology/astrophysics and should be understandable to anyone who has completed high school level math, though some knowledge of calculus is recommended. Both are relatively up to date (as up to date as one can be in such a constantly changing field) and are pretty common undergraduate texts. The Ryden book is much more focused on cosmology and contains all the really good derivations on which we base much of our assumptions in cosmology (friedmann equation, flwr metric, hubble parameter, power spectrum of the cmb, etc.) while at the same time, includes a pretty good helping of the history of the field of cosmology to give context to how these ideas developed.

The Carroll & Ostlie book, sometimes dubbed the B.O.B.- big orange book- contains really good info on the entire field of astrophysics, including some *really* good stuff on cosmology and how that ties in to other areas of astrophysics. Again, this is a very standard undergraduate textbook. It's pretty thick, but it's just a really good compendium of information from cover to cover. This is also a pretty common reference text for people beyond the undergraduate level. I keep both on my bookshelf- though admittedly I use the orange book much more often than Ryden.
The thing I love most about both of these books though- and the reason why I mention them- is that both texts are able to maintain really good readability and are understandable to non-experts, but are not shy about difficult math or very technical/theory-heavy derivations, and so still maintain something new to offer experts as well. One could teach an advanced high school course using these texts or a first-year graduate level course, and so if the goal of the original poster is a good "introductory intellectual resource for non-specialists", I believe both of these texts meet your goal and fall in the "intermediate" category. :)

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Message 9577 - Posted: 26 Oct 2011, 15:16:41 UTC - in response to Message 9560.

Thank you very much, drgribb!

These are very good recommendations. Actually, we are trying to compile a list for all levels. Your recommendations are a welcome addition to the list.

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Message 9605 - Posted: 28 Oct 2011, 14:23:29 UTC - in response to Message 9577.

Above, I have listed a number of good books on cosmology which may appeal to people who have an interest in cosmology but who does not have an extensive background in physics and mathematics. Last time, I wrote a few comments on Brian Greene's the Elegant Universe. Today, I will write a few comments on another classic in the field of scientific writing for the general public in the area of cosmology: Stephen Hawaking's the Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded.

Professor Stephen Hawaking (1942 - ) is the Director of Research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University. Stephen Hawking is both a brilliant cosmologist and a very able popularizer of science. Among his many contributions to cosmology is the idea of the Hawking Radiation, which explains thermal properties of Black Holes. He has has also collaborated with Jim Hartle (who is currently a professor of physics at UCSB) to develop a model in which the universe had no boundary in space-time. Stephen Hawking is also a brilliant popularizer of science. His most famous works in this domain are a Brief History of Time and the Universe in a Nutshell.

In a brief history of time, Hawking tackles the big questions that are being asked by cosmologists today: When did the universe come about and why? Will it have an end? etc. Keeping the technical language to a minimum, Hawking tries to address these questions and, on the way, he introduces his readers to topics such as gravity, the search for a unified theory, black holes, etc. In a short book, Hawking starts with discussing developments that have made the world understandable through physics, and then moves to introduce complex topics such as the big bang, black holes, etc in a way that is not overwhelming to his non-technical readers.

I recommend this classic for someone who would like to learn about cosmology, but who does not have an extensive scientific background. In the future, I will list more books in the "intermediate" and the "advanced" levels.

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Message 9645 - Posted: 8 Nov 2011, 1:50:44 UTC - in response to Message 9605.

Today, I would like to write a few comments on one the books which I have listed above: The Runaway Universe: The Race to Find the Future of the Cosmos , by Donald Goldsmith. Unlike the other authors we have talked about in this thread and who hold research faculty positions at different institutions in addition to their science popularizing work, Donald Goldsmith works as a full time popularizer of astronomy. Goldsmith earned a PhD in astronomy from the University of California at Berkley in 1969. After that he work as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford and Berkley before serving as a faculty member at the at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Currently, Dr. Goldsmith devotes his full energies to the popularization of astronomy.

In the 1980s, Dr. Goldsmith worked as a co-writer and science editor of "Is Anybody Out There", which was a NOVA special featuring Lily Tomlin. Around the same time, he also worked as a consultant for the television series "Cosmos", hosted by the late Carl Sagan, who had been Godsmith's undergraduate adviser at Harvard University. Donald Goldsmith is also a prolific writer who has made many notable contributions in the field of scientific writings for the general public. Among his well known books are Worlds Unnumbered, The Runaway Universe, Connecting with the Cosmos, and Einstein's Greatest Blunder?

In The Runaway Universe, Goldsmith deals primarily with the implications of the recent finding that the universe is expending and that the expansion is actually accelerating, contrary what cosmologists had envisaged (http://www.cosmologyathome.org/forum_thread.php?id=862). Goldsmith explains how the universe is shaped and why this finding (its accelerating expansion) is so shocking. Lay readers will enjoy Goldsmith's discussions of the universe's origin and expansion, and the details of the various theories that try to tackle possible scenarios for its ending--if it has one!

In addition to discussing how Supernovas which had exploded long ago help us look back into time and the significance of the date that the Hubble Space Telescope and other modern instruments have made possible, Goldsmith adds a human touch to his book by including personal accounts of the cosmologists and astronomers who have interpreted the data that these fascinating instruments have made possible. One of the major themes of this enjoyable read is about how looking into the universe's past sheds light on our understanding of its future.

I strongly recommend this book and I feel that it goes under our introductory category!

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Message 9660 - Posted: 9 Nov 2011, 20:27:58 UTC - in response to Message 9645.

As a popularizer of science, Stephen Hawking is best known for his A Brief History of Time. However, he has written and lectured extensively with the aim of reaching the widest audiences possible. In the introductory list above, I have listed the title for another engaging and entertaining volume written by him, The Universe in a Nutshell.

Without patronizing his readers, Professor Hawking attempts to explain deceptively simple and illusive concepts such as time and relativity. In addition to explaining the insight behind Einstein's Theories of Relativity (Special and General), he introduces his readers to exciting, and sometimes still highly speculative domains of modern physics, such as superstring theory, the extra-dimensions of the universe, p-branes, etc. He also touches on perennial and vexing philosophical questions and their relationship to physics: whether the future of the universe could be predicted using a deterministic model of physical reality. He sets the foundations in the early chapter, and then he moves on to flesh out topics, such as quantum physics, black holes, etc, in a way that they all add in a similar way to which individual blocks add up to build a mansion.

One thing that sets this volume apart is its reliance on a relatively large number of beautiful images and captions. They make following the main arguments of the author much more tractable. I find this book a gentler introduction than to cosmology than A Brief History of Time. I certainly believe that it fits best under our list of introductory books. In the near future, I will prepare a list with titles from the "intermediate" and the "advanced" categories. I do plan to add titles for more introductory books. Needless to say, other members are very welcome to contribute to enlarging the list and to giving their feedback.

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Message 9680 - Posted: 16 Nov 2011, 23:22:23 UTC - in response to Message 9660.

In an earlier post, Scott had alluded to Foundations of Modern Cosmology by John F. Hawley and Katherine A. Holcomb. This is definitely an excellent read. It is a bit more advanced than the texts I have already listed in that it is more detailed on the quantitative side. However, it does not overwhelm the non-specialist, and it is very rich conceptually. It is certainly too advanced to be listed as an introductory text in the sense that I have used the term in this thread. However, I do not believe that it meets the rigor standards of other books that I intend to present under the intermediate category. Before I write a few comments on the book itself, I would like to start first with a few lines about the authors.

John Hawley is the chair of the Astronomy Department (2006-present) at the University of Virginia. After obtaining his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1984, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1993, where he has remained since. He describes his research interests as "my research activities have primarily been concerned with accretion disks and related phenomena. I have chosen to focus on the basic physics of such systems through the use of computational finite-difference techniques. This approach necessitates the development of numerical algorithms, and the devotion of considerable effort to programming, computation, and visualization. Pictured here is an an image from a three dimensional simulation of a magnetized accretion torus." (1). In 1993, he was the recipient of the Helen B. Warner Prize, the American Astronomical Society

Curiously, I was not able to locate much information on Katherine A. Holcomb besides her association with this book. I am assuming that she does not serve as a faculty member as UV or somewhere else. Unfortunately, this does not give us a chance to have some background information about one of the authors of one of the books in our list. I thought it would be a good idea to provide that information so that we can put these books into some context.

At the outset, the authors make it clear that the book is meant for people for whom cosmology is not the core discipline. It is, however, intended for readers with some interest in physics who are interested in learning more about cosmology. The authors touch on standard topics such as black holes and cosmic models. They also provide a refreshing presentation of the conceptual framework of the special and general theorie(s) of relativity. The book starts with a presentation of some historical aspects of cosmology, and it smoothly moves to present scientific topics such as relativity, the Big Bang, etc. The style is engaging, and the writing style is very good. It would serve as a nice compliment to A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.

Sources:

(1) http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~jh8h/

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Message 9700 - Posted: 26 Nov 2011, 1:00:59 UTC - in response to Message 9680.

Above, I have listed a number of books which I thought are entertaining and engaging reads that will inform, but not overwhelm, a beginner. I will list additional books in the future. Today, I want to present a book in the "advanced" category, Cosmology by Steven Weinberg.

Steven Weinberg (1933- ) is a professor at the Departments of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. Weinberg received a bachelor's degree in physics from Cornell University in 1954, and a PhD in physics from Princeton University in 1957. Since that time he has done research in different areas of theoretical physics, including pion scattering, symmetry breaking, quantum field theory, cosmology, etc. Steven Weinberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work on the unification of the electromagnetic and the weak forces in what is known as the electroweak interaction. He shared the prize with Sheldon Glashw and Abdus Salam. Weinberg is the author of a number of highly regarded titles, such as Cosmology, the First Three Minutes, the Quantum Theory of Fields, and Gravitation and Cosmology.

Cosmology is a dense read. It is very well-written and detailed. It is meant as an introduction to cosmology for people with a strong interest in pursuing a career in cosmology. Therefore, this book is a challenging reading that relies heavily on mathematics and physics. Weinberg starts off with a concise derivation of the FLRW metric which he relates to the Hubble Constant, and then he follows this analysis with a discussion of topics such as the background microwave radiation, dark matter, inflation, nucleosynthesis, etc. He also discusses the significance of the observational data assembled using the Hubble Space Telescope and other instruments. Weinberg explains clearly how precise our cosmological data are, and he leaves out speculative aspects of cosmology, such as the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, non-standard topologies and quantum cosmology, etc.

I believe that a reader with some familiarity with General Relativity and a proficiency in statistical mechanics and the Standard Model of Particle Physics should find almost all the topics discussed in this book accessible. This book belongs in our "advanced" list.

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Message 9707 - Posted: 26 Nov 2011, 23:32:58 UTC - in response to Message 9700.
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Another classic in the field is James Hartle's Gravitation: An Introduction to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

James Hartle (1939 - ) is Professor Emeritus of physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he has served on the faculty of the physics department since 1966. Professor Hartle earned a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1960 and a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1964. He was a member of the Institute of Advanced Study (1963-1964), an instructor of Physics at Princeton University (1964-1966), an assistant professor to associate professor at UCSB (1966-1972), a professor of physics (1972-present), a visiting professor at the University of Chicago (1979), and a professor at the University of Chicago (1981-1983). Professor Hartle was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1991, and was the recipient the Einstein Prize in 2009 (awarded by the American Physical Society).

Professor Hartle has been a frequent visitor to Cambridge University since 1971. He has collaborated with Stephen Hawking on a number of works, including their famous "no boundary proposal" for the origin of the universe. In 1994, he served as a G. C. Stenard Visiting Fellow in Mathematics, Gonville and Caius College (Cambridge University). He is the author of a highly regarded textbook on general relativity, Gravitation: An Introduction to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

The targeted audience of Hartle's Gravitation are undergraduate physics majors with a strong interest in gravitation and cosmology. Gravitation is a masterful combination of an analysis of the conceptual foundations, the historical background of the observational confirmation, the mathematical machinery, and the cosmological applications of the General Theory of Relativity. Hartle blends the physics and the mathematics at the core of GR to convey its meaning to his readers beautifully. Hartle teaches the necessary mathematics, although the notation maybe slightly different than that used in mathematics courses on differential geometry. The Lagrangian formulation of mechanics is the assumed physics background, although the more a student knows the better it is.

Hartle's book falls in our "intermediate to advanced" category. It is a gentler introduction for students without much background in GR than, for example, Gravitation by Thorne, Misner, and Wheeler, which is the textbook used in a two-semester, graduate course taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign taught by Professor Stewart Shapiro. The latter is usually used for teaching courses at the graduate level.

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Message 9729 - Posted: 5 Dec 2011, 9:28:41 UTC - in response to Message 9707.

Today, I would like to introduce a book that is related to cosmology, but its subject matter is not cosmology in the sense that the other books I have introduced earlier are. However, it does complement them, and it is a good introduction to Hartle's book on relativity. This book is Special Relativity by Anthony French. As usual, I would like to write a brief biographical sketch of the author before I present his book.

Anthony French (1920- ) is professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. French received his bachelor's degree in physics in 1942 and his doctoral degree in 1948--both from Cambridge University. In the last part of WWII, French worked briefly on the Manhattan project before returning to his native England. In 1955, French came back to the United States. This time he was the chairman of the Physics Department at the University of South Carolina. He left USC in 1962 to assume a faculty position at MIT, where he has worked since. Professor Anthony French is highly regarded physics educator. Some of the textbooks he authored include Special Relativity, Newtonian Mechanics, Vibrations and Waves, and Quantum Mechanics. These text, which are the backbone of the famous MIT Introductory Physics Series, reflect French's unique approach to teaching physics: a mixture of historical insight, exposition of the interrelatedness of theory and experiment in physics, and contextual explanations of the inductive and deductive approaches to science, etc.


Special Relativity is an excellent resource for someone who is interested in learning about SR comprehensively from one source. Professor French deploys his refreshing approach to present SR in a very engaging and entertaining manner. Traditionally, SR is connected with the Morley-Michelson Experiment (1887). However, this famous experiment had little impact on Einstein's thinking. The main reason for using it in almost all accounts of SR is for its pedagogical value. It dramatizes the questions that SR strives at solving very well: the problem of the ether and absolute motion, the nature of the propagation of light, etc. French takes a different approach. He starts with astronomical observations and experimental results that Einstein was aware of and that had played a direct role in his thinking (given the fact that Einstein was familiar with the writings of Poincare and Lorentz prior to 1905, some historians of science believe that Einstein was familiar with the results of the Morely-Michilson experiment at least indirectly). These results are James Bradley stellar aberration observations (1725) and Hippolyte Fizeau's speed of light drag effect experiment (1851).

I believe that French chooses this different introduction for two reasons. First, it helps him present an account of relativity that is closer to its true historical development. Secondly, the relevence of these two famous results is not as evident as that of the Morely-Michilson experiment, and, therefore, they help a student to acquire the vital skill of seeing theoretical significance that does not present itself readily in experimental and observational results.

After concluding the historical background with a thorough discussion of the Morely-Michilson experiment, French moves on to develop a relativistic kinematics and dynamics, explaining how these two domains of mechanics are deeply intertwined, and how one could move from developing a kinematics to a dynamics that is suitable to it. He starts his treatment of kinematics with a thorough explanation of the concept of an observer and what it truly stands for. His discussion is the most thorough and most enlightening in any treatment of SR I have seen to date. The relativity of simultaneity is thoroughly discussed and time dilation, length contraction, etc are presented as logical consequences. In the second half of the book, he discusses relativistic dynamics, and the significance of conservation laws in the context relativity.

This is a book I highly recommend for anyone with an interest to learn SR seriously. The mathematics used does not exceed high school algebra, although the details appear formidable at times. In clarity of exposition it is certainly equivalent in quality to Edward Purcell's great text on electricity and magnetism. I feel that this text belongs in our introductory list.

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Message 9808 - Posted: 6 Jan 2012, 20:36:52 UTC

I would like to personally recommend Hyperspace by Dr Michio Kaku. It was an important book for me, and I think you'd get a lot out of it. Dr Kaku is a master of introducing advanced concepts in such a way that even a layman can comprehend and enjoy the reading.

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Message 9811 - Posted: 8 Jan 2012, 18:33:12 UTC - in response to Message 9808.

Thank you very much, James!

I will check Dr. Kaku's book soon.

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Message boards : Cosmology and Astronomy : Request for reading list