The End of Everything – Astrophysically Speaking (2020) by Katie Mack
Genre: Nonfiction – Science
Summary: Sometimes when I’m half awake in bed or when I’m zoning out driving, I start to ponder the universe. The thought process usually starts with the question, how did the Earth come to be? The Big Bang (probably). But, I thing to myself, how did the Big Bang happen? How did the particles and mass and energy come to be? We are made of protons and neutrons and matter right? But where did matter come from? Everything comes from something, right? And what about galaxies? So much of our universe is unexplored, so much of our own Milky Way we know nothing about – so what about life, maybe there is a planet even within our galaxy that has life, plants, animals, people? And what about multi-universe? Is there similar versions of me somewhere?
That’s about the time my brain explodes and I have to turn on some music or something because I just worked myself up.
I’ve always been fascinated by space and time. It’s a fascinating concept, but a concept that I feel like I am wholly inadequate in. I took high school physics and that is really where most of my most recent science education comes from.
Katie Mack’s book, The End of Everything, explains theories on how the universe will end. Mack provides a small synopsis of the Big Bang and probably the most helpful explanation of this event that I have ever read. Mack then describes five ways that cosmologists like herself and other physicists and scientists have theorized how the universe shall end.
It is important to note that these are all theories. Scientists have worked decades on different aspects of these theories to all of a sudden find out that something in the question does not fit. And then they start all over again. One aspect that I wasn’t expecting out of this book was to get a glimpse of the work that has and is being done by scientists who work in almost, at least what it seems like for me, in a world that their entire life’s work could potentially be refuted at any moment.
“For me, thinking about the ultimate destruction of the universe is just such an experience. There’s an intellectual luxury in being able to power the farthest reaches of deep time, and in having the tools to speak about it coherently. When we ask the question, ‘Can this all really go on forever?,’ we are implicitly validating our own existence, extending it indefinitely into the future, taking stock, and examining our legacy. Acknowledging an ultimate end gives us context, meaning, even hope, and allows us, paradoxically, to step back from our petty day-to-day concerns and simultaneously live more fully in the moment. Maybe this can be the meaning we seek.”
Did reading a book about five potentially possibilities for the universe to end (and in one way that literally could happen at any moment) make my head explode? Yes, a bit. But Mack uses humor and a bright outlook on life to structure the book and help the reader maybe not freak out too much. Thinking about how life as we now it, including all the other potential life in the universe ending isn’t a really cheery thought. But its helpful. Helpful to put some perspective on this beautiful and imperfect universe that we live in.
Technical Overview: Mack writes a pretty digestible but dense book. While only a little over 200 pages, it took me more time than usual to finish it because it contains so many foreign ideas for me. I cannot pretend that there weren’t times where I was completely lost in her explanation, so if that is something as a reader you don’t find particularly enjoyable (completely understandable) than this book may not be for you. It was a challenge for me, but I am glad I finished it.
Author: Katie Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist. She is currently an assistant professor of physics at North Carolina State University. She has written for numerous publications is a columnist at Cosmos magazine. This is her first book.
Lover of the written word.