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The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

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Three great scientific revolutions have shaped our understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed the Copernican Revolution, which bodychecked the Earth as the pivot point of creation and joined us with the rest of the cosmos as one planet among many orbiting the Sun. Three centuries later came the second great scientific revolution: the Darwinian Revolution. It removed us from a distinct, divine biological status to place us wholly in the ebb and flow of all terrestrial life. This book describes how we’re in the midst of a third great scientific revolution, five centuries in the making: the Stardust Revolution. It is the merging of the once-disparate realms of astronomy and evolutionary biology, and of the Copernican and Darwinian Revolutions, placing life in a cosmic context. This book takes readers on a grand journey that begins on the summit of California’s Mount Wilson, where astronomers first realized that the universe is both expanding and evolving, to a radio telescope used to identify how organic molecules—the building blocks of life—are made by stars. It’s an epic story told through a scientific cast that includes some of the twentieth century’s greatest minds—including Nobel laureate Charles Townes, who discovered cosmic water—as well as the most ambitious scientific explorers of the twenty-first century, those racing to find another living planet. Today, an entirely new breed of scientists—astrobiologists and astrochemists—are taking the study of life into the space age. Astrobiologists study the origins, evolution, and distribution of life, not just on Earth, but in the universe. Stardust science is filling in the missing links in our evolutionary story, ones that extend our family tree back to the stars.

376 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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Jacob Berkowitz

3 books1 follower

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5 stars
51 (42%)
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48 (39%)
3 stars
16 (13%)
2 stars
6 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Doug Dillon.
Author 7 books137 followers
April 23, 2014
For Jacob Berkowitz, the writing of this book was a true labor of love and dedication. His enthusiasm is infectious and his attention to detail, while making his words comprehensible to the average person, is superb.

The Stardust Revolution takes the reader on a fascinating journey of scientific exploration of the universe since the early days when humnakind first stared at the stars in awe. The author not only cites the discoveries that have helped us to understand the cosmos, he clearly demonstrates the evolution of scientific thinking that shows us how the roots or our origins llie well beyond the planet we call home.

One of the most appealing things about Berkowitz's effort is his interviews with cutting edge scientists, whether in their offices or at conferences. This personal approach to uncovering key information is not only vital to the essence of the book, it also humanizes what is being offered in a most appealing way.

I read this book because I thought it might help me in the development of my next book of young adult fiction and I am so glad I did. The Stardust Revolution will now be a key source as I write Targting Orion's Children, Book III of The St. Augustine Trilogy.

Thank you Jacob Berkowitz for a job well done.
Profile Image for Alex Binkley.
Author 5 books6 followers
January 21, 2019
Interesting--lots to think about. I will probably read it again some time in the future as it touches on a lot of topics I'm interested in.
Profile Image for Mark Fallon.
776 reviews24 followers
June 7, 2015
A great book to get your geek on with! Berkowitz explains the science of our stellar origins. He brilliantly introduces the different concepts to the reader in the order in which they were discovered, making it easier to follow along, and understand the "nature of our ancestors. They were stars."
Profile Image for STEPHEN PLETKO.
167 reviews5 followers
December 10, 2022



"The stardust revolution is the story of the greatest genealogical search of all time. It is extreme genealogy.

It's extreme in terms of time, connecting us back to the very beginning of time and space in the Big Bang. It's extreme in what it tells us about the nature of our ancestors. They were stars...

In extreme genealogy, the traits [of inheritance] we're talking about aren't recognizable in family photos with a glance in the mirror...

The elements [of inheritance] are more fundamental: the types of atoms from which we're composed, the chemical bonds between them, the molecules that make up our cells."

The above (in italics) comes from extremely well-researched book by Jacob Berkowitz. He is a science author.

Berkowitz takes the reader on a step-by-step tour through scientific history where we learn among other things about the origins of the stardust revolution. From here, we take a tour of the invisible universe. The book ends with a discussion of the living cosmos where we encounter the men who first held stardust. Included in this final part is excellent information on extrasolar planets or exoplanets (planets not of our solar system).

Today, we have a new breed of scientists called astrobiologists and astrochemists who are taking the study of life into the space age.

Stardust science itself is filling the missing pieces of human evolutionary history, extending our family tree back to the...stars.

Finally, besides a few black-and-white diagrams throughout, there are two sets of glossy color photographs found in this book. My favorite photo is of the cosmic chemistry cycle.

In conclusion, once you read this book, I guarantee that you will never look at the night sky the same way again!


(2012; prologue; notes for the journey; 3 parts or 9 chapters; main narrative 310 pages; acknowledgements; a note on sources; index)

Profile Image for Sara G.
1,735 reviews
August 16, 2020
This is a fascinating look at how Earth, and all life on it, is literally made of elements created and formed in the stars. It's a little densely scientific in some parts, but the author does a fantastic job of making it readable and accessible to a layperson like myself. This is an interesting subject for me and I enjoyed learning more of the science behind the ideas.
Profile Image for Jerry.
202 reviews10 followers
January 30, 2013
A very readable book about the intersection of cosmology, chemistry, and biology. It relates the story and history of the scientists who discovered how the elements and compounds were created in the stars. It states that we and all the things around us are made of "stardust."

Here is an example of what can be found in this book:
In 1957 Burbidges, Fowler and Hoyle published “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars.”
“The paper described six different key processes of stellar nucleosynthesis to account for the ninety naturally occurring terrestrial elements from hydrogen to uranium. First there was hydrogen burning into helium, as described by Hans Bethe. Then, as a large star exhausted its hydrogen, it contracted and heated, and the helium would start its nuclear burn, forming carbon and oxygen. This set the stage for the alpha process, when massive stars' cores burn carbon and oxygen, forming the elements from neon to sulfur. Now the processes bifurcate, depending on a star's ultimate fate. In large stars that form red giants and gradually puff out their atmospheres, ending as carbon-oxygen cinders called white dwarfs, there's a slow process of neutron capture, dubbed the s-process. The s-process gives new cosmic meaning to the word slow. In these elderly, extinguishing stars, neutrons stream out from the star's core, occasionally on just the right path and with just the right energy to collide with an existing atomic nucleus farther out in the star's shell and merge. Any given atomic nucleus doing a crazed energetic journey in a star captures a neutron about once every ten thousand years. In this geologically slow process of neutron capture and beta decay, atoms all the way up to element 83, bismuth, are forming.”

“Just as the s-process defines slow, the r-process, for rapid, gives new meaning to fast. Here, exploding stars – supernovas – provide the runaway energy and machine-gun spray of neutrons to accomplish in mere seconds what occurs in red giants over tens of millennia... It's the r-process to which we owe the bulk of the world's precious metals, silver, platinum, and gold.”
61 reviews6 followers
March 4, 2014
I really loved this book. For the last 3-4 years I have become increasingly interested in all the new frontiers of space exploration. And new, they are. In spite of growing up during the heyday of NASA and the Apollo missions, I cannot honestly claim to have followed it very carefully overall. I think that in the midst of all that life tosses at us (school, work, marriage, parenthood and middle age), it was too easy to assume that all the things we learned about science in high school would remain true indefinitely.

For example, anyone of my generation "knows" that water has never been discovered anywhere outside of Earth. We certainly didn't find it on the Moon!

...or did we? I won't give the plot away. This book will fill in so many blanks if, like me, you weren't paying attention and now want to catch up. Berkowitz strides right into the action as he introduces us to the scientists at the Wilson Observatory in California and what they see through their telescopes. It's a thrill, really, and easy to follow as he draws a clear, unbroken line from the days of the Renaissance right up to the Voyager and the discovery of exoplanets, and what all of this discovery can tell us about ourselves.

Berkowitz explains just enough about chemistry and light spectra to put us at ease with the more advanced techniques in stargazing. Just as the Hubble and Kepler space telescopes bring us those fabulous color videos of far-off galaxies and nebulae that we see on YouTube, Berkowitz does such a good job explaining the scientists' conclusions that it's easy to forget that no Earthling has ever visited any heavenly body beyond the Moon.

Hey, did you hear, they just identified another 700 planets? If all this is too much for you and you're wondering how you missed it, pick up this book. It will help.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Profile Image for Brie.
317 reviews16 followers
January 18, 2013
Wow, have I been lucky with science books this year. First was Gravity's Engines, and now Stardust Revolution. Both 5 star books, but this one was superbly written and layed out all the information very well. Ignore the cover, which seems a little hokey to me...this book is all science and very interesting.

The idea that we are made of 'stardust' is not new to me, but this book does a great job of explaining how scientists reached that conclusion. It's a perfect mix of history and science. Not only do stars create all the elements, certain stars can also create molecules, particularly red giants. Scharf details how scientists learned how to 'see' the universe in more than just visible light; we have microwave, infrared, and xray radiation that we can use to see whats out there. Through the successive discoveries of these different types of radiation, we have been able to see whats hiding in places like nebulas and molecular clouds. And recently there is evidence of amino acids and nucleobases (the stuff of DNA) being found in meteorites, and it has been shown they formed in space rather than from contamination by coming into contact with Earth.

If you have any interest at all in science, biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc, then pick up this book. If you don't have any interest, well...get some and then pick up this book or Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, still one of my favorite science books, and entertaining to boot.
Profile Image for Lisa.
314 reviews21 followers
June 28, 2013
An informative and mostly brief history of the change in the past ~150 years of our understanding of the cosmos and where we and our planet come from. I found it a bit tedious at first- the author repeats his catchphrase "the stardust revolution" a bit too often, and throws in some anecdotes probably meant to add interest but that just felt like padding. It picked up in the second half, and I'm glad I didn't quit. It also intersected nicely with a few other books I've read lately- several of the folks from Bell Labs popped up- while also introducing me to a few scientists I feel like I should have heard of but hadn't.
Profile Image for Wendell Fraser.
Author 1 book15 followers
November 6, 2012
I was looking for a book detailing the scientific history and experiments that supported the idea that star dust is indeed the matter of our planet and us....and the matter of alien life forms and planets too! This book is it.

We are canned starstuff that walks around and thinks. We come from exploded stars and so does the Earth you're standing on right now. All of the atoms of your body down to the calcium in your bones was brewed chemically inside a star for billions of years and then it was released into the universe via stars exploding. A stellar pollination!
Profile Image for Garrett.
1,664 reviews11 followers
September 30, 2014
Interesting and a lot of good historical storytelling (historitelling?) but not a lot of new insights; might be a perspective-changer for anyone whose understanding of evolutionary biology is grounded entirely upon Earth, but I suspect anyone for whom that's true might not read this book anyway.

Would be a great intro to astro-related fields for a younger reader with an interest in shows like Cosmos, or Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's work - it expands into the history of astrobiology and astrochemistry, while acknowledging the potential problems with these.
30 reviews
November 11, 2012
in Genesis 2 it says God formed man from the dust of the earth. In the Stardust Revolution, Jacob Berkowski, reveals the true nature of that dust. What is life? How did it evolve? And how it is related to the very cosmos is so much simpler, and ultimately more profound, than we could have imagined. Berkowski does an amazing job of making the science of the profound understandable while maintaining a lively narrative. A must read if you enjoy this genre!
Profile Image for Sean Begley.
63 reviews
November 12, 2013
I enjoyed the half that I read. This book is not easy to read, I don't know why everyone says that it is. It involves big words and big concepts that were way beyond my understanding. That being said, this is a fascinating topic and there were a lot of anecdotes that I did manage to follow. I did find it funny that Berkowitz uses the phrase "Stardust Revolution" in almost every paragraph of this book.
Profile Image for D.L. Morrese.
Author 11 books53 followers
May 3, 2014
Astrophysics is normally what people think of when they think of space science, but there is also astrochemistry, astrogeology and even astrobiology. This book highlights discoveries in these subjects and how they provide greater insight about how we and everything else owe our existence to stardust. It's a fascinating read. I recommend it.
1,498 reviews
January 29, 2015
I loved this book. It was very easy to read, funny, and fascinating. Also, the chapter on "catching stradust" is all about what my mom does for her career. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It was fabulous. I will be buying it and reading it again.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

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