Bodley Head, £20, 354pp. £18 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Book of Universes, By John D Barrow

"Einstein explained his theory to me every day and on my arrival I was fully convinced that he understood it," reported Chaim Weizmann. He would become the first president of Israel, but in 1921 was accompanying Einstein on a transatlantic voyage to New York. The theory in question was general relativity, in which gravity is due to the warping of space caused by the presence of mass. The Earth moves around the Sun not because some mysterious invisible force pulls it, but because of the warping of space due to the Sun's enormous mass.

"The theory is beautiful beyond comparison," Einstein wrote. When, in November 1919, British astronomers announced that they had discovered that gravity bends light – as predicted by general relativity – it made headlines around the world. Yet buried within his greatest achievement was what Einstein called "my greatest blunder".

He knew that his equations could be solved in a number of different ways, with each solution representing a model of a possible universe. Like everyone else at the time, Einstein believed that the actual universe was eternal and unchanging. So he introduced a term (his "greatest blunder") into the equations that ensured exactly that. It was left to others, a Russian mathematician and then a Belgian Jesuit priest, to find and take seriously the solutions that pointed to an expanding universe. Soon this non-static model attracted some experimental support.

In the 1920s, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered two remarkable facts. First, what we had long assumed to be the universe was actually our host galaxy and there were many other such "island universes". Second, he found that light from these distant galaxies was stretched towards the red end of the visible spectrum. This so-called redshift is evidence that these galaxies are moving away from our own Milky Way and that the universe is expanding.

Eventually, this led theorists to a universe that was exploded into being in a Big Bang some 13 billion years ago from a single point, called a singularity, which was infinitely hot and dense. Add a surge of accelerated expansion only a trillion trillion trillion trillionth of a second after the Big Bang that lasted for only a trillion trillion trillionth of a second, and the discovery that 96 per cent of it is made up of dark matter and dark energy, then we arrive at the most popular model of our universe.

In the 20th century, cosmology became a bonafide scientific discipline, but there remains plenty of room for some metaphysical speculation. What exactly do we mean by "universe"? Is the universe everything that has existed, does exist and will ever exist? asks Cambridge cosmologist John Barrow. What about including all that cannot exist? After all, as he points out, some medieval philosophers "were drawn to this sort of completeness, adding everything that has existed, does exist and will not exist to the catalogue of what was, is and will be".

Barrow and his colleagues are not only interested in the structure and history of our universe. There are other universes that live inside black holes, or are chaotically unpredictable or allow time travel into the past. However, the most mind-numbing concept of all only emerged in the 1990s: the never-ending "multiverse" – the universe of all possible universes. There can be few better guides to the bewildering array of potential universes, and none so readable or entertaining.

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...