Book Review: How to Build a Universe

Amber Malkin – Year 9 Student & 2008 Society Member

‘How to Build a Universe’ by Professor Brian Cox, Robin Ince and Alexandra Feachem

‘How to Build a Universe’ is written by the presenters and producer of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’. The book tries to explain science in a thought-provoking and amusing way. The topics the book cover vary from The Big Bang to the death of strawberries, whilst keeping you interested through the use of witty humour and entertaining analogies.

The style the book was written in is a unique and clever format. Extremely complex ideas were explained through comedy, comparisons or sometimes in a conversation between Professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince. I found this technique very helpful as Robin Ince would ask questions which were then explained by Brian Cox and these dialogues really helped bring the book to life and captivate your attention. Cox and Ince complemented each other by having such different personalities but this made the book even more hilarious. The use of numerous anecdotes allows you to understand the science but also enjoy reading about it.

The technique I thought was most effective was the analogy used to explain infinity through a Trip Advisor hotel review. There is one hotel but with infinite rooms. So, when one new person arrives, everyone must move rooms to allow space for the newcomer. The hotel is never fully booked but there are many problems such as ‘the breakfast buffet queue is often very long’ and checking out is very difficult as many people have the same name or face. This simple explanation allowed learning about infinity to become fascinating and comical simultaneously. 

Unfortunately, despite all these techniques to simplify ideas and theory, I still found some concepts fairly difficult to understand but through rereading several paragraphs I’ve learnt so much from this book. However, this does not compare to the amount of new questions I now have. That is one of the greatest qualities of this book: it encourages you to ask questions, my passion for science has been revived over the summer, and the book has inspired me to go research more about the scientific topics I am interested in, such as the end of the world and how that will occur; alternative universes and human significance/insignificance. These questions may never be answered but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to.

‘How to Build a Universe’ also contained various pictures including astronauts, planets and machines which was a simple way to allow the reader to visualise what you were reading.  I especially liked the image of the sun, photographed whilst solar flares were occurring spanning over 588,000 kilometres across the solar surface. The waves were spectacular but the page of equations that followed it were extremely complex. I still don’t entirely understand it, but I hope I will revisit this book in the future with more knowledge and be able to fully comprehend the maths.

Overall, I found this non-fiction book extremely insightful and educational although many concepts were difficult to grasp, I still think this book is a worthwhile read as it was written in a unique and engaging style. Despite it being challenging, I have learnt a lot and can’t wait to find out more.

Amber Malkin

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