Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos

LONELY HEARTS OF THE COSMOS explores the world of the scientists who spend their lives wondering about the origin and fate of the universe. Although Overbye, a science journalist, provides a nontechnical overview of the history and present state of cosmological studies, he also illuminates the personalities and careers of the scientists. He writes of quasars and the Hubble constant, but also of employment opportunities, competition, frustration, and sexism in science.

The lives of an international array of scientists are dissected in this book, but Overbye always comes back to the astronomer Allan Sandage, who has spent his life measuring the universe, primarily with the 200-inch Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. To Overbye, Sandage’s career serves as a paradigm for the life of a scientist.

This book is based primarily on Overbye’s observations and interviews. It is journalism rather than history. How trustworthy is it? At least one astronomer/reviewer has challenged the accuracy of some of the material in the book. Only those quoted know for sure. It is evident, however, that in a number of cases, Overbye either misunderstood his informant or made no effort to confirm the accuracy of what he was told. In indirect quotations, he presents factually inaccurate information.

This is not the book to turn to for a history of cosmology or a biography of Sandage. Specific facts and quotations should be utilized with caution. However, Overbye captures the intensity and passion of the scientific endeavor. For the men and women he discusses, science is a calling, not merely a profession. Research is a way of life, not a simply a means of earning a living. Overbye understands this.