Science fiction and fantasy
Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
There are some aspects of the universe that are inevitably rather depressing. For instance there's the death of stars, including our own, or the supermassive black holes that gobble millions or even billions of stars. The author devotes a section to all the different ways the cosmos is out to kill us. It's hard to read this kind of thing and not feel insignificant compared with the vast scale of the universe. The dramatic scenarios he describes are mercifully either remote possibilities or inevitable yet long-distant, but they're explained clearly and with a touch of gleeful morbidity.
To be fair it's not all about death and destruction, in spite of the book's title. There's also a lot of fascinating detail about how the molecules of life emerged from the processes within stars, and a little about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets and the Drake equation.
The last two sections are a bit more like rants. They deal with the public perception of science and the clash between science and religion, so inevitably there's a lot of scope for frustration from the point of view of a scientist. The author makes persuasive points about such things as the importance of testing theories scientifically, about poor science in movies, and the place of religious doctrine in the science classroom. Of course if you've reached this part of the book he's probably preaching to the converted in any case, but at least he does it in an entertaining way that brings fresh ammunition to the debate.
This is quite a US-centred book, and some of the essays are fairly short. Yet it's informative as well as engaging. For science students who are not yet at university level as well as anyone with a casual interest in astrophysics it serves as a useful introduction to the subject.
4th April 2011
If you like this, try:Knocking On Heaven's Door by Lisa Randall
From particle physics on the tiniest scales to the most awe-inspiring cosmology, and modern experiments that could be on the verge of cracking open the secrets of the universe.
Inflight Science by Brian Clegg
This book examines the science behind flying, from check in at the airport to touch down.
Cosmos Close-Up by Giles Sparrow
A view of the universe, as revealed by space telescopes and other modern technology.