Published May 2, 2017, by W. W. Norton Company
Page Count: 222
At one time or another every one of us has looked up at the night sky and wondered: What does it all mean? How does it all work? And, what is my place in the universe?
Nonfiction. Even that title sounds boring, doesn’t it? It’s not even a thing – it’s a non-thing. It’s not a personal rule, but I tend to shy away from nonfiction – simply because it’s… real.
Reading has been my method for escaping from reality for as long as I can remember – not that my reality was fraught with danger or discontent in any way whatsoever. But it was occasionally. Very. Boring.
I am an only child. And while I had cousins and plenty of friends in my neighborhood and at school to play with, there were many times when the house was too quiet, my mom was too busy, and there were too few channels on TV. So, I turned to books to fill the void. And once I did, I was hooked.
Around the same time that I was discovering my love for reading, my grandparents gave me a big picture book about the universe. There were huge, glossy, color-filled pages showing off the beauty of Saturn, the power of a supernova, and the amazing size of distant stars like Rigel and Betelgeuse (one of my personal favorites btw). Once again, I found myself hooked – on space.
That mild (but consistent) obsession with all things “astro” has lead me to add shows like “Space’s Deepest Secrets”, “How the Universe Works”, and “Cosmos” to my DVR on a regular basis. And it was “Cosmos” that introduced me to Neil deGrasse Tyson. His charismatic manner and conversational tone made understanding astrophysics less of an unattainable goal for a liberal arts major like myself. I wanted to know more about the stars and more about this man who made it so easy for me to grasp concepts about space-stuff like I never had before.
The cosmic perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we’re told.
My dad loaned me this little book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. In it, deGrasse Tyson brings the stars into reach of the “common man” – or rather, anyone who doesn’t also hold a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. I’ve been so enamored with deGrasse Tyson’s field of science (and his brain) for a while now, so I dove right in to it – not even really registering that it is nonfiction (except to maybe a flat-earther).
The tone of the book is technical but conversational. Some scientific topics and theories are hard to explain without sounding a bit obnoxiously erudite; however, deGrasse Tyson’s humor easily tempers all that and brings us all to the table as equals. But don’t take that to mean that he “dumbs-down” the information in any sense. He just includes references and comparisons that bring complicated themes into better focus.
Ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist.
I also really appreciated the fact that he is notably transparent about how much scientists still have yet to learn about our own solar system and the universe at large. The book expresses more than once that advances we have made in understanding the space we occupy have changed human thought drastically in only a few decades, and that we should continue to expect that same level of knowledge-shift as scientific methods and tools improve.
We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun.
This book, as advertised, is a quick overview of the wonders and mysteries of astrophysics, and in the end, I found it to be not enough. I could have used a few more chapters covering black holes, the theoretical 9th planet, our sun’s current life cycle, and future plans for interstellar travel.
Welcome to the Universe just may give me what I need. Published in 2017 and co-authored by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who acts as director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History; J. Richard Gott and Michael A. Strauss, both professors of astrophysics at Princeton University, it touts itself as “an astrophysical tour” and even has an accompanying website at Welcome to the Universe. Intriguing topics include “Our place in the universe”, “Is there a black hole in our backyard?”, and “Do we live in a multiverse?”. Another one added to the TBR pile!
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry earned a healthy 4.5 stars from me, and after reading it my admiration of Neil deGrasse Tyson – and my IQ – rose a few notches. Signing off from this little person in the Western hemisphere of the 3rd rocky planet from our sun, in the Milky Way galaxy, on the Orion Arm, in the Local Group of the Virgo Supercluster, in the Observable Universe.
And check out NDT’s radio show StarTalk online at https://www.startalkradio.net/ or wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.