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.
The 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.