Friday, June 18, 2021

"Astrophysics for People in a Hurry," by Neil deGrasse Tyson--Nonfiction Review

It’s review day, obscurists! And today, we’re going to touch on big topics like the stars and the universe, in all their glory, quickly, with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.” 

Neil deGrasse Tyson

What I love about this book:

This book is very much in the same tradition as Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” which is a book I very much enjoy, and I’ve reviewed on this blog as well. Like Sagan, Tyson takes some of the biggest, mind-bending concepts—right on the verge of human understanding—and breaks them down for an audience who aren’t astrophysicists. Similar to what I said in the “Cosmos” review, Tyson achieves this similar effect by explaining the results of well-documented experiments and famous scientific theories with a liberal amount of metaphors.

Unlike “Cosmos,” this book is a far—far more focused product. Ever faithful to his title, in “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” Tyson doesn’t meander. You can read every chapter in the book, in about twenty minutes on average, or thereabouts, which is right at that sweet spot for my favorite chapter length.

The material covered in this book is about the fundamental workings of the universe as we understand them—it’s literally the biggest topic there is—and I can’t imagine not being at least curious about the subject. Personally, I’m more than just curious but deeply fascinated, and I can gobble up these sorts of books endlessly. Even when I’ve revisited material I already knew, rereading it never fails to cement it again in my mind in a new and often unexpected way.

What I don’t love about this book:

That focus I lauded above doesn’t come without a cost, and it’s this: “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” will never be remembered being as profound as “Cosmos.” I find it laudable that Neil deGrasse Tyson didn’t set out to rewrite Carl Sagan’s book. He wrote his own book, largely about the same subjects, but with its own goals. It’s a brief primer, which casts the widest net possible through its focus and brevity to bring in the largest crowd, and hopefully, teach them something.

One thing that “Cosmos” does better and gets short shrift in “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” is its political commentary—or rather, it’s near-total lacking it until the end. Sagan was never one to shy away from commenting on the virtues and foibles of our little human world—and I’m not precisely accusing Tyson of the opposite—he’s very, very outspoken in the public sphere and a fierce proponent of rational thought. But, unfortunately, this book lacks his typical flair for commentary on the human condition because it’s sacrificed to the abbreviated form rather than any timidity.

So the final chapter, “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective,” while I like it—a lot—in of itself, feels like an appendix. It’s an indulgent essay in an otherwise just the facts and science text. Mind you, this hurts me to point out because I agree with everything he says in the chapter. It might be my favorite chapter—paradoxical since I’m talking about it here. I guess what I don’t love about this chapter, that I love, is that it’s a bumpy spot in an otherwise smooth experience.

This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Parting thoughts:

The stars—and books about them—never fail to leave me awestruck. Contemplating the infinite, deep time, and cosmic scale objects is an exercise in the abstract, to be sure, but it’s such a sublime experience. These topics create perspective in a way nothing else can. 

It always leaves me wanting to know more and what happens next. It’s probably why I love sci-fi and space opera so much in the realms of fiction. I want to know what is out there beyond our tiny world. But, honestly, it makes me a bit jealous of those generations that will come after us because they might get to find out some of those things. So here’s hoping that they get the chance to get there.

No comments:

Post a Comment