A review of:

Stardust: Our Cosmic Origins – By Stephen Welch

Aimed at an intelligent and curious lay readership, Stardust is a fascinating, informative exploration of scientific thought and discoveries over the past two hundred years, which addresses age-old questions regarding the ‘why’ and ‘where’ of human existence and our perceptions of reality. As well as elucidating the scientific data, the book (briefly) sets it against the world’s many religious and mythical ideas, including the Bible, Greek mythology and Cheyenne beliefs, and ponders the implications of the fact that it is only in relatively recent times that the physical secrets of the universe – and hence the origins of man – have been knowable.

Welch does not sit on the fence regarding his stance on the science-versus-religion debate, but what is so appealing is that he is not dogmatic about it. He writes persuasively, for example, about the concept of evolution (and common misconceptions regarding it), asserting its logic and credibility. It is, he argues, only because some stages in the process are no longer extant that man’s fabulous complexities seem the specialist work of an intelligent and benign creator; if they were, we would see the ‘small believable steps [of evolution] all the way’. Interesting topics for discussion include the notions of ‘memes’ and ‘memeplexes’, the probability of other intelligent life in the universe, and evolutionary psychology, especially the parts about altruism and free will.

Notably, the book’s scientific flavour and clout is not compromised by opening quotes from poets such as Shelley. Welch’s knowledge is clearly sound, and he does not believe that art/beauty and science are mutually exclusive.

Stardust straddles the boundaries between popular science, religion and philosophy. A well-written book that sometimes manages not to appear overly serious about a deeply serious subject, it deserves to do well both critically and commercially.


Taken from a pre publication Reader's Report
Commissioned by the publisher