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Cover Tyson Astrophysics

Neil, you don’t know me at ALL, do you? I love you – except for that thing where you did a TV remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, which ended up being disappointingly cartoonish…but after reading this new book, maybe that really IS my level! I had such high hopes going in.…

The marketing is superb: “So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day. While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.” (BTW, thanks to W.W. Norton and NetGalley for the copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.)

As I began, the preface sounded like it was meant for me: “…every one of us has looked up at the night shy and wondered: What does it all mean?…And, what is my place in the universe?” And I was thinking, OMG! Neil! Thank you! Then, you continue: “If you’re too busy to absorb the cosmos via classes, textbooks, or documentaries …seek a brief but meaningful introduction to the field…” and I was HOOKED! This sounded perfect!!!

Then I began reading. In just a couple of pages, I was looking at “The ordinary photon is a member of the boson family. The leptons most familiar to the physicist are the electron and perhaps the neutrinos; and the most famous quarks are…well, there are no familiar quarks.” HUH? You lost me at photon (and boson and lepton).

I DID appreciate the places where he brought the abstract down to touching on real life (for some of us): “In America, local school boards vote on subjects to be taught in the classroom. In some cases, votes are cast according to the whims of curtural, political tides.” And this: “When I pore over the data that establish the mysterious presence of dark matter and dark energy throughout the universe, sometimes I forget that every day—every twenty-four-hour rotation of Earth—people kill and get killed in the name of someone else’s conception of God, and that some people who do not kill in the name of God, kill in the name of needs or wants of political dogma.”

So, what happened for me reading this was I was reminded that I am totally ignorant when it comes to science!!! Maybe Dr. Tyson will write some version of Astrophysics for Dummies. I would try it! And I really am glad I read this, because I love when he talks about our place in the universe and how the diminishing of science education can be a real disaster. It’s just that the beginning, when he got into the actual scientific lingo, it seemed there was a presumption of a certain level of scientific literacy – which I CLEARLY DO NOT HAVE.

So, I am giving this three stars. Five for the man and his approach to making science accessible to everyone – but a loss of two for the headache I got trying to follow the science.