Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. (Popular Science Book, 2017).
As the title suggests, this rather slim volume (209 pages, not counting the index) provides a crisp and quickly paced overview of current space science knowledge. Tyson includes thumbnail background histories of how the relevant theories have evolved and have been verified through observation and testing. He is also forthright in noting how much we still don’t know.
It’s a highly readable account, as should be no surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with the author’s work. It’s understandable for those not versed in the field, informative and inspiring (and yes, in Tyson’s capable hands, quite entertaining). This is a scientist who can communicate smoothly with the layman without being condescending. And he’s fully capable of spicing the discussion with occasional flourishes of playful humor.
The dozen chapters cover such subjects as the early days after the Big Bang, the nature of gravity and those mutually opposing mysteries, Dark Matter and Dark Energy. He devotes one chapter to turning the search for otherworldly life on its head by speculating as to how intelligent aliens might view Earth, whether they’d be able to tell there was life here–or if any of it might be intelligent or technologically advanced. In the concluding chapter, “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective” turns philosophical, examining the strengths (and yes, the pitfalls) that thinking about space all the time can engender.
I should note the one Big Idea in the field he doesn’t cover here (possibly because it’s so speculative, with many variations still battling for dominance) is multi-dimensional string theory.
This is, overall, a lovely and accomplished little book about big and wondrous (but by no means intimidating) ideas. That Mr. Tyson’s conversational style also makes it a truly fun read, is a welcome bonus. And rest assured, while discussing these theories and facts intelligently, you won’t have to face even a single exotic equation. Okay, E=MCsquared does pop up (inevitably), but his explanation of it and its significance is brief and to the point.