Ragnarok. Armageddon. Doomsday. Since the dawn of time, man has wondered how the world would end. In The Last Three Minutes, Paul Davies reveals the latest theories. It might end in a whimper, slowly scattering into the infinite void. Then again, it might be yanked back by its own gravity and end in a catastrophic \u0022Big Crunch.\u0022 There are other, more frightening possibilities. We may be seconds away from doom at this very moment. Written in clear language that makes the cutting-edge science of quarks, neutrinos, wormholes, and metaverses accessible to the layman, The Last Three Minutes treats readers to a wide range of conjectures about the ultimate fate of the universe. Along the way, it takes the occasional divergent path to discuss some slightly less cataclysmic topics such as galactic colonization, what would happen if the Earth were struck by the comet Swift-Tuttle (a distinct possibility), the effects of falling in a black hole, and how to create a \u0022baby universe.\u0022 Wonderfully morbid to the core, this is one of the most original science books to come along in years.
Although cosmology has developed into perhaps the most arcane and heavily mathematicized of academic specialities, you don't have to be a scientist to gaze at the night sky in search of answers. Hence the appeal of these fine companion books, the first in the publisher's very promising "Science Masters" series, which aims to tap into the potentially large market of curious, generally educated readers seeking intelligent but nontechnical treatments of current science issues. Barrow looks at Big Bang cosmology and does a particularly good job at explaining so-called "inflationary universe" theory, a difficult concept that others have handled far less deftly. Still, despite his occasional digressions into the literature of Arthur Conan Doyle, his writing is rather dry. Davies, by contrast, is more playfully conjectural, and the sheer audacity of some of his speculations makes for a more entertaining read. While other popularizations of basic cosmology have been published in recent years (e.g., Alan Lightman's Time for the Stars, LJ 11/15/92), Barrow and Davies are quality science popularizers, and both of their books merit recommendations. Davies's book is, however, the stronger due to the livelier writing and comparative uniqueness of his subject. [The third volume in the "Science Masters" series is Richard Leakey's The Origin of Humankind, reviewed below.-Ed.]-Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib.