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Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Jack's Stacks
San Bernardino Public Library

Martin Gorst

Measuring Eternity: the Search for the Beginning of Time

(The version I read was entitled Aeons)

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

Product Description
The untold story of the religious figures, philosophers, astronomers, geologists, physicists, and mathematicians who, for more than four hundred years, have pursued the answer to a fundamental question at the intersection of science and religion: When did the universe begin?

The moment of the universe's conception is one of science's Holy Grails, investigated by some of the most brilliant and inquisitive minds across the ages. Few were more committed than Bishop James Ussher, who lost his sight during the fifty years it took him to compose his Annals of all known history, now famous only for one date: 4004 b.c. Ussher's date for the creation of the world was spectacularly inaccurate, but that didn't stop it from being so widely accepted that it was printed in early twentieth-century Bibles. As writer and documentary filmmaker Martin Gorst vividly illustrates in this captivating, character-driven narrative, theology let Ussher down just as it had thwarted Theophilus of Antioch and many before him. Geology was next to fail the test of time. In the eighteenth century, naturalist Comte de Buffon, working out the rate at which the earth was supposed to have cooled, came up with an age of 74,832 years, even though he suspected this was far too low. Biology then had a go in the hands of fossil hunter Johann Scheuchzer, who alleged to have found a specimen of a man drowned at the time of Noah's flood. Regrettably it was only the imprint of a large salamander.

And so science inched forward via Darwinism, thermodynamics, radioactivity, and, most recently, the astronomers at the controls of the Hubble space telescope, who put the beginning of time at 13.4 billion years ago (give or take a billion). Taking the reader into the laboratories and salons of scholars and scientists, visionaries and eccentrics, Measuring Eternity is an engagingly written account of an epic, often quixotic quest, of how individuals who dedicated their lives to solving an enduring mystery advanced our knowledge of the universe.

From the Hardcover edition.