Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle”

The Scientific Legacy of Fred HoyleThe Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle. Edited by Douglas Gough. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Fred Hoyle was the astronomer nobody knows. One of the most interesting and provocative scientists in his field in the twentieth century, Hoyle made important discoveries in astronomy, astrophysics, and astrobiology. In particular, he broke ground in such areas as the evolution of the universe, the accretion of stars, and modern cosmology. Sir Fred died in 2001 at the age of 86 and this book is the result of a conference held in celebration of his life and work in 2002. Edited by Douglas Gough, a colleague of Hoyle’s at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, the twelve chapters of this book was written by colleagues and friends.

In the first chapter, dealing with Hoyle’s scientific legacy, Wallace Sargent attributes much of the current state of knowledge about the universe to the mind of Fred Hoyle while noting that his scientific work involved considerable creative thought, especially his efforts in nucleosynthesis, stellar evolution, and cosmology. This overview introduces several other chapters on individual areas explored by Fred Hoyle, all written by other scientists rather than historians.

Had historians been represented in this book, it might have turned out quite differently. For example, a full review and analysis of Hoyle’s insistence on the legitimacy of the “Steady State” thesis of the universe versus the “Big Bang” is not to be found here except in the most general terms. Hoyle’s persistence in the “Steady State Universe” in the face of building and eventually overwhelming evidence supporting the “Big Bang” is one of the most fascinating episodes of his career. While The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle represents a useful tribute to the life of an esteemed colleague, it leaves open more questions than it answers.

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2 Responses to Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle”

  1. rangerdon says:

    Glad to see Hoyle getting some attention here. His was a mind ahead of its time. I quote him in my GRS bio, for this famous and prescient comment: ” Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available…a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose. (1948) “


  2. russellsilk says:

    Another dimension to his legacy was his Science Fiction where he allowed his imagination to roam into areas normally excluded in his day job. I have fond memories of reading “the Black Cloud” and “October the first is too late” and I recall him writing of earth observation of an exoplanet having spectral signatures of life. With technology rapidly improving this may well become reality before long. Although he may have been ” a stubborn Yorkshireman” when it came to accepting the Big Bang, a term I believe he invented to discredit this idea, he was brave enough to take on the scientific establishment when he thought it was wrong


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