REVIEWED: Welcome to the Universe


Welcome to the Universe: an astrophysical tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, J. Richard Gott & Michael A. Strauss. (Science Book, 2016).

I figured I was due a refresher/update on the latest science regarding astrophysics. So when I saw this hefty book at my local library (and noted that the excellent Neil DeGrasse Tyson was one of the co-writers), I took the plunge. Glad I did, too.

I trusted that Tyson (head honcho of the Hayden Planetarium, host of the updated version of the Cosmos TV series and famed popularizer of science knowledge) would make his chapters accessible to the intelligent novice (I dare class myself as such, even the ‘intelligent’ part–I hope you will forgive the conceit) and (given his other work) that he would make it a “good read” as well. I didn’t know about the other two, but it turns out Gott and Strauss can write well, too.

This book arose from the fact that these 3 work together, teaching a very popular astrophysics course at Princeton. As always, Tyson brings the history and development of scientific knowledge to life with plenty of interesting insights and stories concerning the people involved, their lives and the times they inhabited, from historical giants like Newton and Einstein to those exploring the frontiers of our understanding right now. I’m glad to report that his co-writers do much the same, and manage to very nearly match Tyson when it comes to engaging, even charming prose.

You need to be aware that, given the nature of the subject, mathematical formulas and equations abound within. Some of the higher math is beyond me (okay, I’ll admit A LOT of it is). But the authors effectively describe the reasoning that led to all these numbers and symbols, what they (and their various component parts) mean and how they were/are experimentally tested. In short, a non-math-wiz (like me) can get a decent understanding of it all. Yes, even seemingly esoteric notions like the latest competing theories in string theory, etc.

From the earliest to the most recent ideas about how the universe came into existence, expanded into its present state, and continues to evolve–and ranging from scales as large as super-massive black holes capable of finally swallowing entire galaxies to as small as the quarks that make up the so-called particle zoo of the sub-atomic universe–these three give us a mind-expanding yet comprehensible and (I stress again) readable account.






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