The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race
to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek
matter and dark energy have been enlisted as catch-alls to account for a lot of what we do not understand about the past and future of the
universe. “The 4% Universe” is a stylishly written account of the development of
these concepts, the researchers, and of the tensions and the politics in
astronomy and particle physics that have enabled our present level of incomplete
understanding. The dichotomy between theoreticians and experimentalists pales
against the one-time rivalry, often intolerance, between quantum physicists and
astronomers. Panek’s frank and chatty style makes a work of exhaustive research
readable and paints a memorable and life-like picture of radio telescopy
pioneers, the domestic duty juggling pragmatism and cool intellect of Vera
Rubin, through a pantheon of hard-working physicists to the Nobel laureates,
Perlmutter and Schmidt. Panek’s characterisations are priceless, as are his
expositions of the deals and behind-the-scenes lobbying. The Notes, Works Cited
and Index are thorough and helpful.
story of quasars, supernovae, standard candles, the inflationary universe, the
accelerating universe, the many phenomena and theories that link astronomy to
cosmology: these are all covered by Panek carefully with minimal technical
contortions. The historical account is what makes this book, other books may be
an easier read to clarify the technical aspects of dark matter and dark energy.
It was published before the Nobel Prize was awarded to Schmidt and Perlmutter,
but this takes little from the account. It would be a treat if Panek tackled
these topics again in a decade or so, even as a revised edition.