Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: How Did the First Stars and Galaxies Form?

How Did the First Stars and Galaxies Form? By Abraham Loeb

This is intended to be a short introduction to the interface between cosmology and astrophysics governing the first galaxies and stars. Allegedly it is aimed at the undergraduate with a science background or the non-specialist scientist, but I found the level of presentation rather uneven. What kind of student, I wondered, would need to have the terms "star" and "galaxy" defined but still be able to decipher "Polarization is produced when free electrons scatter a radiation field with quadrupole anisotropy Q?"

This short book packs a lot of information into it, though I'm not sure that I agree with the title. It's mostly not about those events but rather about the modeling of the growth of cosmological density perturbations which ultimately gave rise to those stars and galaxies. This is a technical book, with lots of equations, but derivations of those equations are mostly absent or extremely cursory. I would guess that the ideal audience for this book is a graduate student in the field who would like a quick review and summary of key concepts and equations.

Nevertheless, a lot can be learned from this book even without trying to understand every equation (I didn't). The plain text does a good job of explaining key ideas.

The figures, unfortunately, are something of a disaster. Most of them are tiny copies of figures from journals, with details and captions in tiny print. They are purely black and white and the quality of reproduction is not high.

This book was published in 2010. The author has subsequently (2013) collaborated on a much thicker and larger book on the same subject. I have only read short excerpts, but it does look more like a proper textbook with real derivations, though much of the material is adapted directly from the present volume. It might be a better bet for those who want a more detailed understanding.