Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2017)
Pages: 222, Final verdict: Should-read
He is the most famous astrophysicist of our time. Face to one of the most famous Internet memes, host of popular TV shows on space and science, and star in some of the most entertaining debates you can find online, Neil deGrasse Tyson is a familiar figure to most of us.
This time, with Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - the winner for best science and technology book of 2017 on Goodreads - deGrasse Tyson takes us on a crash course on astrophysics.
It all started with nothing
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is not your everyday book. It is a layman's version of a series of scientific papers on one of the most complex subjects of science. And a good one. From start to finish, deGrasse Tyson writes with simplicity, giving his best shot at bringing the science of the universe to our hands.
Starting in the very beginning with the big bang, 12 short chapters take us from the microscopic - the world of electrons, neutrinos and quarks - to the incomprehensibly large realm of stars, galaxies and more. And without losing the wit and humour he has accustomed his Internet fans with, this is actually a fun physics book. Yes, that is a thing.
"The good thing about laws of physics is that they require no law enforcement agencies to maintain them, although I did own a geeky t-shirt that proclaimed, "OBEY GRAVITY" " - Neil deGrasse Tyson
Each chapter covers a fundamental aspect of the DNA of our universe. Gravity, the electromagnetic spectrum, the formation of the elements of the periodic table, and the mysterious and puzzling "things" that are dark energy and dark matter. And between references to fellow physicists, anecdotes on geologists and a conversational writing style, I was positively surprised at the amount of learning packed into 200 pages.
In one fascinating example, deGrasse Tyson explains how astrophysicists use snapshots of telescopic images to understand how far we are from other stars and measure how fast the universe is expanding. Wondering how physicists know there are at least 3500 planets in the universe? deGrasse Tyson knows, and by exploring the world through his eyes, so will you.
It will be hard to look up to the sky the same way. You'll gaze at the stars and think how dark energy is causing them to move further and further away from us. How most of what separates us from the rest of the galaxy is invisible matter and how the remainings of the big bang are everywhere around us. You will feel humbled, insignificant and grateful at the same time. And that is pretty cool.
"If you are overweight on Earth, don’t blame dark matter." - Neil deGrasse Tyson
I loved reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. In this concise and pragmatic book (a little over 200 pages), you get a chance to learn about the ingredients and cosmic interactions that make up our universe, how scientists measure and make sense of what they see, and how much is still in the realm of the unknown.
There were also a few times (particularly in the initial chapters) that I struggled with the technical explanation of a few concepts. Though this might pose an obstacle to some readers, a few trips to your favourite search engine will surely get you over the hump.
To end this review, I thought I’d share one of my favourites paragraphs from the book, concluding our reflection on the cosmic perspective:
"During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore- in part because it’s fun to do. But there’s a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us. In that bleak world, arms-bearing, resource hungry people and nations would be prone to act on their “low contracted prejudices”. And that would be the last gasp of human enlightenment- until the rise of a visionary new culture that could once again embrace, rather than fear, the cosmic perspective”. - Neil deGrasse Tyson