Book Club: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

I've always been interested in astrophysics and after binge-watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, I had been interested in learning more about what Neil DeGrasse Tyson had to say. I'm so glad that Jen reviewed his book! 

In the Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” Tyson discusses some very complex topics in a very digestible way. What makes this book unique and more than just a regurgitation of facts, however, is the unique perspective Tyson brings to almost everything he touches.

Tyson ends the introduction with the statement, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you." While some people might think this a bit condescending, I found it to be comforting - as if Tyson was telling me its ok if you don’t understand the material that will follow, the universe will continue to exist whether you understand it or not - and isn’t that nice?

While I’ve noted by my affinity for science fiction, science, and astronomy at large in various previous reviews, I found the material in this to book to be both accessible. In fact, I believe that having this book would be a great supplementary guide to many of the topics discussed in college-level Astronomy 101 courses. Additionally, Tyson uses examples from mainstream science fiction to drive home an example or to illustrate the various uses of technology, it helps reinforce the importance of astrophysics.

In addition to making complex astronomy accessible to the masses, Tyson also provides some historical context regarding the individuals who discovered things or how a particular exoplanet factoid affects us here on Earth. I felt this grounded the material in a way that made it easier for a less scientifically literate person to understand.

Throughout the book, Tyson kept throwing shade at geographers and biologists for the convoluted way they name things, but thankfully, in his opinions, astrophysicist have usually maintained a logical system by either naming their findings after themselves or by the Latin name. As an example, a particle with a positive charge is called a proton, a particle with a neutral charge is called a neutron, and a particle with a negative charge is called an electron. This little bit of shade Tyson throws adds a bit humor to the scientific language in a way that makes it memorable.

Tyson also explains some of the unique or odd things astronomers have done that humanized the profession to me a bit. Like how Hershel wanted to name Uranus after King George of England instead of after a Roman god, like the rest of the planets. Despite Uranus being given Roman name, its moons aren’t named for its greek counterparts, as is standard with other planets in our solar system. Instead the scientific community agreed to name the moons for characters in Shakespeare’s plays and Alexander Pope’s poems.

Einstein’s biggest blunder also provided a bit of motivation, which I feel like I don’t usually see in scientific literature. I’ll leave the story a mystery for those of you who will go and read this book, I think you’ll find it to be an interesting story and definitely continues to humanize smarty-pants people like Einstein.

The overall goal of this book is to make the cosmic mindset more accessible to everyone from migrant farmers to world leaders. As I finished reading this book, I found myself feeling very grateful for the time I spent reading this book and the time Tyson spent crafting such a well-written book. I recommend this book if you are at all curious about the universe, science, history, or even just life. Most of the extraterrestrial anecdotes and instruction in this book are related back to Earth and its evolution, which grounded this book in a very accessible way.

Bonus thing for Deb’s Lucky Readers: Whether you read this book or not, I recommend checking out this interview below to get a taste of how interesting and engaging Tyson makes astrophysics, its a bit little long, but you won’t regret watching it.