Flashes of Creation

George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, and the Great Big Bang Debate


By Paul Halpern

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A respected physics professor and author breaks down the great debate over the Big Bang and the continuing quest to understand the fate of the universe.
Today, the Big Bang is so entrenched in our understanding of the cosmos that to doubt it would seem crazy. But as Paul Halpern shows in Flashes of Creation, just decades ago its mere mention caused sparks to fly. At the center of the debate were Russian American physicist George Gamow and British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. Gamow insisted that a fiery explosion explained how the elements of the universe were created. Attacking the idea as half-baked, Hoyle countered that the universe was engaged in a never-ending process of creation. The battle was fierce. In the end, Gamow turned out to be right — mostly — and Hoyle, despite his many achievements, is remembered for giving the theory the silliest possible name: "The Big Bang." Halpern captures the brilliance of both thinkers and reminds us that even those proved wrong have much to teach us about boldness, imagination, and the universe itself.
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  • “In his new book, Flashes of Creation, Paul Halpern chronicles the rise of Gamow and Hoyle…as they disputed whether everything began with a Big Bang billions of years ago… Halpern, a physicist himself at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, skillfully brings their fascinating stories to light, out of the shadow of the overlapping quantum physics debates between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr…”
    Ramin Skibba, New York Times Book Review
  • “Paul Halpern has had the bright idea of explaining how the big-bang concept became established by weaving together the biographical stories of the larger-than-life characters who carried on the debate. Two things make the book stand out, apart from the clear and accessible writing that we have come to expect from Mr. Halpern. First, it rehabilitates the steady-state idea… The second stand-out feature of this book deals with the way ideas were developed in those simpler days, only a couple of generations ago… Such a big story.”
    John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal
  • “Capturing the history of the Big Bang theory is no easy task, but Halpern pulls it off… Flashes of Creation is a treat and a worthy tribute to two scientific mavericks.”
    Science News
  • “A scintillating account of the intellectual travails of Gamow and Hoyle, two animated, curious, provocative, and controversial figures in 20th-century physics… [Halpern] renders their contributions and clashes vividly in this expertly crafted biography…” 
    Science Magazine
  • “As a joint biography, Flashes of Creation tells much more than just the scientific work of Gamow and Hoyle. I found the description of the scientists’ early lives fascinating… It’s a tale that’s well worth discovering.”
    Laura Hiscott, Physics World
  • “Halpern’s treatment of a critical period in science makes this worthwhile for readers interested in the history of physics.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “An expert and entertaining account of the first great controversy in cosmology. Physics professor Halpern, who has authored many books on cosmology and the universe, has chosen irresistible material for his latest book...Two iconic scientists come together in an outstanding dual biography.”
  • “If you’d like to know more about two of the leading figures in cosmology and the story of how we came to recognize the Big Bang Theory as the best interpretation of how the Universe began, then this is the book for you.”
    BBC Sky at Night
  • One of Science News'  Favorite Books of 2021
    Science News
  • "Paul Halpern’s Flashes of Creation introduces us to the human side of the Big Bang: the debate about whether it happened and the effort to develop a consistent mathematical description of the early universe. Flashes of Creation is an engaging look at an important moment in the history of cosmology, and in the era of big data and large, diverse collaborations, it is a valuable retrospective of a distinctly 20th century approach to fundamental physics."
    Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, author of, The Disordered Cosmos
  • "Cosmology today is an established and exciting science, but in the mid-twentieth century it was looked at as somewhat disreputable. This engrossing book tells the story of the two audacious physicists who had the courage to envision the universe as a whole, disagreeing with each other but shaping our modern view of the cosmos."
    Sean Carroll, author of, Something Deeply Hidden
  • "An astute and deeply researched account of the argument between two of the most colorful characters in twentieth-century science, about the true nature of literally everything in existence. Flashes of Creation shows scientists at their most human, as they struggle to unravel riddles of cosmic importance."
    Philip Ball, author of, Beyond Weird: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Quantum Physics is Different
  • "Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Flashes of Creation offers a fresh look at the mid-20th century debate—sometimes playful, mostly contentious—on the origin of our universe. Paul Halpern’s engaging narrative and rich portrayals of the key participants adds a new and reverberating bang to the story of the Big Bang theory’s triumph."
    Marcia Bartusiak, author of, The Day We Found the Universe and Black Hole
  • "A vivid and gripping tale of the origins of today's cosmology, Flashes of Creation weaves together the extraordinary personalities and their scientific disputes that gave birth to the theory of the Big Bang. Informative and enjoyable."
    Ian Stewart, author of, Calculating the Cosmos
  • "Paul Halpern adroitly weaves together the careers of two maverick scientists in this illuminating history of the competing theories of the universe."
    Frank Close, University of Oxford and author of, The Infinity Puzzle
  • "Before The Big Bang Theory was a TV show, it first was a putdown. Flashes of Creation relates the fascinating history of the two competing theories for how the universe came to be, promoted by two larger-than-life physicists who clashed in science journals and popular media. Highly readable, entertaining and informative, Paul Halpern’s latest book shows that even when grappling with some of the biggest questions, science is a human activity and all the better for it."
    James Kakalios, University of Minnesota and author of, The Physics of Everyday Things

On Sale
Aug 17, 2021
Page Count
304 pages
Basic Books

Paul Halpern

About the Author

Paul Halpern is a professor of physics at Saint Joseph’s University and the author of eighteen popular science books, including Flashes of Creation, The Quantum Labyrinth, Einstein's Dice and Schrodinger's Cat, and Synchronicity. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

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