This is a fascinating and personal statement on ``cosmic evolution,'' which the author defines as ``the study of the many varied changes in the assembly and composition of energy, matter, and life in the Universe.'' Throughout his book, Chaisson ( Cosmic Dawn ) focuses on three interrelated questions: Where and how did the idea of ``cosmic evolution'' originate? How can order (via evolution) emerge from the chaotic stuff of the universe? What is the origin of the primal energy of the original universe? He believes humans are about to enter a new era that will determine their survival. This is a provocative book, and one that deals with topics of increasing interest to both laypeople and professionals. Warmly recommended for public libraries. Robert Paul, History of Science Program, Dickinson Coll., Carlisle, Penn.
This provocative ``book length essay'' is the second in a projected trilogy, following Cosmic Dawn, which examined the origins of matter and life and pointed the way to the Chaisson's view that, as matter grew out of cosmic energy, so in our time this process of ``cosmic selection'' has led to a ``Life Era'' that will see humans, through technology, give creative direction to evolutionincluding, perhaps, that of the cosmos. The author, an associate professor at Harvard and a researcher in astrophysics at MIT, is caught up in those ultimate questions that distinguish philosophers and theologians such as Kant, Descartes, Teilhard, Tillich, and he is in the tradition of moderns like Carl Sagan, J. S. Trefil, George Wald, Jacques Monod and others who urge science into new dimensions. Chaisson is a bedrock scientist, however, and what some might dismiss as mysticism disguised as freewheeling physics is, in fact, hard science with enriching overtones. His study of cosmic change is followed by an appended ``mathematical guide'' that is dazzling. Macmillan Book Clubs alternate. (June 26)