Book Review: How To Build a Universe

We live in a wild and crazy universe. Gigantic stars explode and create the stuff of life, virtual particles pop in and out of existence so fast they can barely be measured, and light exists as particles and waves at the same time. And it all started with three simple words: The Big Bang. It’s taken hundreds of years of science to begin to sort some of this out, so for one author to write one book that tells the whole story is an enormous task.

Enter Ben Gilliland, science columnist, gifted illustrator, and winner of the 2013 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Space Achievement in Media. Gilliland tackles the task in his new book “How to Build a Universe: from The Big Bang to the End of the Universe.” He uses engaging storytelling, eye-catching graphics, and a relaxed and friendly style of writing that makes reading his book an enjoyable and informative experience.

“How To Build A Universe” reads like a conversation with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic friend. Gilliland leads us through the twists and turns of the story of the universe and uses his skill as an illustrator to great narrative effect. From The Big Bang, to the discovery of the atom. From the point in time when other galaxies will become invisible to observers on Earth, to the eventual death of the universe, it’s all explained with wit and detail.

If you’ve ever picked up a book about space science, opened the first page and then asked yourself why you didn’t take cosmology and astrophysics in university, this book is for you. There’s none of that with Gilliland’s book. This book grabs the reader right away, and is engaging from start to finish.

You would have to take several university level courses in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology to cover as much ground as “How To Build A Universe” does in 224 pages. And your professors probably wouldn’t be near as engaging as the author, Ben Gilliland. (You’d go to more parties if you went to university, but that’s another subject.)

Don’t get the wrong idea. This book is not dumbed down. It finds its audience nicely. It touches on all the important topics, and digs into the detail with clarity and humour. The writing is clear and concise at the same time that it’s warm and informal. Beyond the writing, it’s the wealth of thoughtful illustrations that help pull it all together.

I’m a technical writer, and I know how hard it can be to explain complicated subjects to people. Ben Gilliland makes it seem effortless. His explanations of quantum physics are particularly effective, and they’re the clearest explanation of that challenging material that I’ve ever come across. I could say the same thing about how he handles Dark Matter and Dark Energy, two other difficult to explain concepts.

Gilliland is a gifted writer and illustrator, and I highly recommend “How To Build a Universe” to Universe Today readers.