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Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,043 ratings  ·  281 reviews
A lively astronomy primer that uses cataclysmic scenarios to explain the universe's most fascinating events.

According to astronomer Dr Philip Plait, the universe is an apocalypse waiting to happen, but how much do we really need to fear from things like black holes, gamma-ray bursts, and supernovae? And if we should be scared, is there anything we can do to save ourselves?
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 25th 2009 by Penguin Books (first published October 16th 2008)
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AAAAAAAA!!! We're all going to die!!!!

Well, that's not exactly news. From the moment we're born, Death turns our hourglass and sits twiddling his bony thumbs, waiting as our grains of sand dribble toward the bottom.

But...there's a chance, however remote, that...

We're going to die HORRIBLY! Gasping for breath as our oxygen burns up, pulverized to death by a shockwave, or even SPAGHETTIFIED into nothingness by a Black Hole.

Each chapter begins with a Worst Case Scenario, made even scarier by the
Todd N
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-xmas-gifts
I really enjoyed this book. It's a collection of esoteric topics in astronomy all tied together by one thing -- they could possibly destroy the Earth or at least most of the life on it.

Each chapter covers a particular threat -- asteroids and comets, solar events, death of the sun, stuff in our galaxy, etc. It ends with a mind bending chapter on the death of the Universe -- after the galaxies have dissolved and protons have started decaying.

I learned a lot from this book. If you were into
I absolutely loved this book! As one who has often been utterly confused by physics (especially the physics of space and time) but still completely fascinated this book has answered my physics prayers. Plait has managed to take an extremely complex subject and make it comprehensible to those outside the physics bubble (or maybe I should say universe...). Obviously this book does deal with huge scales of both time and distance but Plait uses everyday comparisons (well where he can anyway) to give ...more
Berit Lundqvist
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Yesterday night, I was out watching the Blood Moon, a phenomenon wich comes with evil intent, according to several ancient legends.

What could be more appropriate when space is coming to get us? And in space, as we all know, no one can hear you scream.

Phil Plait has written a very entertaining book about how the world will end, and the science behind it. And there are so many possibilities! We might be hit by an asteroid. We can die from an exploding or a dying star. We can be devoured by a black
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Came across this book, and it fit in with my current obsession of post-apocalyptic stories. This non-fiction book looks at different ways that stars, asteroids, solar flares, gamma rays, etc., can wreak havoc on our planet. Luckily, most of these are very unlikely to kill us. Plait does a good job of explaining extremely difficult scientific subjects; however, even a good writer such as Plait can have trouble keeping these explanations from being a bit dry, thus the four stars instead of five. ...more
I really enjoyed this book. From the title, you can probably guess that this book appealed to my slightly fatalistic fascination with end-of-the-world, apocalyptic scenarios. I love pondering the unavoidable and the inevitable. And this book presents, of all the environmental, weather, and disease-related possibilities for humans to kill themselves, absolutely the most unavoidable events, with absolutely the most fatalistic perspective. Which is why I loved it.

Each chapter in this book is
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Death From The Skies by Philip Plait, Ph.D.

“Death From The Skies" is the entertaining book about how the universe is trying to kill you. Astronomer Dr. Philip Plait, using the latest in astronomical knowledge, takes us on exciting journey through our universe and enlightens us on the various cosmological hazards that are present. This 336-page book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. Target Earth: Asteroid and Comet Impacts, 2. Sunburn, 3. The Stellar Fury of Supernovae, 4. Cosmic
Oct 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: astronomy, science
This is a fascinating, fun book to read. The author has kept the book light-hearted with an easy-going sense of humor.

I majored in astronomy and physics in undergraduate school, yet I still learned some interesting things from this book. I learned that an asteroid collision is perhaps the most threatening form of astronomical catastrophe for us. And interestingly, an asteroid collision is the most avoidable catastrophe--though not by nuking the errant asteroid. A much better approach is
Judyta Szaciłło
Where do I start?

The book is uneven. I loved it at the beginning, was annoyed and a little bored in the middle only to turn fascinated at the end. It is quite well written, accessible piece of popular science, I admit. But there are serious drawbacks that don't allow me to give this book more than three stars:

1) Repetitiveness: reading about the effect of gamma-ray burst once is really enough. The seccond time is slightly annoying, the third and the fourth simply spoil the pleasure.

2) Pointless
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book opens up with an average man named Mark, and proceeds to tell about his morning when an asteroid that ends all life on earth comes crashing down. Philip Plait presents some of the scariest end-of-the-world disasters, from supernovas, alien encounters, black holes, and even the expansion of the universe itself. Plait illustrates why outer space is not as remote as most think. Each chapter is a new scenario that looks into a different phenomenon, and explains how the planet would be ...more
Carol Brannigan
Jan 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
Wow- what a read and what a way to knock humanities hubris down by about 10³. This book underlays the fascinating ways that our universe is trying to kill us. It starts with asteroids on up to the end of the entire universe (yes- it is inevitable but not for a very very very long time). Dr. Plait keeps a very conversational tone throughout the book which along with his "dumbing" down but not so dumb scientific explanations keep this book very easy to read but also doesn't make you feel dumb.

May 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, science
A very fascinating subject, presented very nicely. Each potential disaster is given its own chapter, starting with a short, fictionalized worst-case scenario, to show how bad this could really be. And then there's science, written in a very approachable and informative way. There's the usual suspect here, like asteroids and black holes, but I'm not sure I'd even heard of gamma ray bursts before reading this book, so that was especially cool to read. Oddly enough, despite being a book entirely ...more
I've always found the end of the world fascinating. So many cultures have put together their own ideas of how the world will end, from the Norse Ragnarök to the Christian apocalypse to the Hindu cycle of creation and destruction. We live in a world that was, for a long time, unpredictable to us and on many occasions seemed to be outwardly hostile. Our ancestors faced floods and earthquakes and disease, with no idea of where these things came from, why they happened or how to stop them. And so ...more
Scot Parker
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a refreshing addition to the astronomy popular science genre. Plait's writing is smooth and engaging, and he presents his topics in a clear, fascinating, and accessible manner.

The theme of this book, obviously, is death from the skies, and it covers a number of different cosmic events that could result in our deaths, or even in the extinction of the human race as a whole. Within this framework, you'll learn about the Big Bang, about the life cycle of stars, about the difference between
Briar Ripley
This was a fun read for me as a not-especially-sciencey layperson with only a very basic education in astronomy; I brushed up on some concepts I'd already encountered, and learned about a few new ones. The prose here is often a little clunky and repetitive, and the writing style often cheesy, but then, this isn't supposed to be great literature-- it's meant to educate while entertaining, and it succeeds admirably in that. Plait explains everything in a playful, lucid, accessible manner, and his ...more
Adam Cornish
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic introduction to astrophysics and cosmology, two topics of which I know very little. Phil Plait gives a great sense of impending doom at the beginning of each chapter by describing the horrible ways that our world can end, then smoothly transitions into the causes of that potential doomsday, finally allaying fears by describing how probable/improbably the event actually is.

I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to learn just a bit more about our universe and the
Edward Taylor
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faves
This book is a fun romp through all of the cosmic disasters that could bring about doomsday. Some of these topics are gamma-ray bursts and solar storms. As someone who visits nutty websites all of the time, I find the author's writing to be pertinent to the concerns of many people. This book also teaches critical thinking and a good deal of general material in astronomy. This book is humorous and it is fascinating. I highly recommend it.
Dec 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Death from the Skies!'s nine chapters all follow the same pattern: a brief, moderately sensationalized depiction of an astronomical disaster followed by a somewhat more sober discussion of the event, with an emphasis on how likely and/or subject to mitigation it is. The book more-or-less progresses from near-term potential events (like an meteor collision) to long-term inevitabilities (the eventual death of the sun, and way beyond). Plait's enthusiasm is palpable throughout -- he just loves this ...more
Aug 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rebecca by: Author's blog
Shelves: nonfiction
I'll be honest with you -- I like pop science books, magazines and blogs even when I know the subject. (Read: they are about astronomy*.) Part of it is reading to see how others explain a subject, which helps me learn things. Part of it is that the narrative for explaining the science to others is different than the research narrative -- while I could easily find out plenty on stellar evolution of a solar-type star -- how the temperature and size and mass changes -- and climactic models of the ...more
May 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you aren't reading Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog over at Discover magazine, you should be. His writing is an awesome example of how real science can be just as awe-inspiring, cool and interesting as the "science" that underlays our most exciting and captivating science fiction stories.

Are you a fan of disaster movies? Then, Death from the Skies is for you. In this short volume, Plait uncovers the real science behind a host of truly dreadful end of the world scenarios from asteroid impacts
Dec 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The full title here is Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End, and in it astrophysicist (or something along those lines) Phillip Plait takes on the bombastic topic of global annihilation. Specifically, he looks at all the ways Earth could destroyed by threats from outer space, dedicating a chapter to each threat. Topics include being hit by an asteroid (or meteor or meteorite or whatever it would be called at that point), blasted by a too-close supernova, having our ...more
Dec 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
By anyone's standards, 2011 was a banner year for disasters, with Earth's ful inventory of catastrophes on display. Flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, and tornadoes filled newspaper headlines all year. In the wake of all this, some might be tempted to look to the heavens for relief -- to the placid, twinkling stars above. Too bad that twinkling is probably a gamma-ray burst on its way to vaporize you.

The perils of the heavens are the subject of Phil Plait's second
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My most recent read was from astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog over at Slate. "Death from the Skies" chronicles all of the possible ways that our planet, and life as we know it, could be destroyed by non-terrestrial natural events. This is definitely not light reading nor does it always perk you up, but it is funny, highly informative, and humbling. Plait's description of our solar system, galaxy, and universe help you to appreciate our position in the cosmos. But how do ...more
Brian Hodges
This is pop-science at its most fun. What better way to learn about the world of astronomy than by learning about all the ways the Universe might kill all life on Earth? "Death From the Skies" uses this setup as the jumping off point to teach the reader all about black holes, the Big Bang, gamma ray bursts, the life cycle of stars and the eventual end of the Universe.

Far from being a treastise of doom and gloom, or worse, a sensationalist tabloid piece designed to ignite hysteria and sell books
Dylan Manfredi
Nov 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: space
Death from the skies is a amazing book written by one of my favorite astronomers, Phillip Plait. The way he writes is great. He often adds humor after generally scary facts really lightens the mood. Let me elaborate on "scary facts". Depending on the kind of person you are you might not find some of this things that scary. Form example if you are like me, someone who worries about the smallest details or things that are well out of my control then reading this book might not be the best idea, or ...more
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Luckily, my favorite astronomer continues to not let me down. Phillip Plait is a renowned skeptic (former president of the JREF) and astronomy blogger who takes on with much gusto (and success) the mission of bringing science education to as wide an audience as possible.

In that spirit, this book is aimed at the layperson. Not even knowledge of scientific notation (exponential) is presupposed. It also has the whole doom-and-gloom appeal, which serves as a pretty good hook, but when it comes down
Sep 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of pop-sci, or anyone will nagging fears about the Apocalypse
Recommended to Celeste by: Dr. Phil Plait himself!
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Entertaining refresher course on astronomy, cosmology, and even a bit of earth science. The author presents the many ways that the universe could wipe us out (or at least severely inconvenience us): from asteroid strikes, solar flares, GRBs, nearby supernovae and wandering black holes to the ultimate death of the sun, galaxy, and the entire universe. I've been reading Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy" blog for years. I think I first became a fan after reading his dissection of the horrible science in ...more
Oct 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like Phil Plait. His blog (Bad Astronomy on is enlightening, and from what I've seen on Youtube, he's an entertaining speaker. We need more people who can take science to the non-scientists in a relatable way, and Dr. P is at the forefront.

Having said that, the book is okay. I definitely learned some new things, especially about gamma ray bursts, cosmic rays, and the heat death of the universe. There's a lot in here that isn't really new, though. If you've read or watched
Evanston Public  Library
There's pulp fiction and pulp science fiction, but is there a genre called pulp science nonfiction? If there is, Plait's book certainly qualifies. With a lurid cover in eye-catching, fiery orange (that's the burning asteroid hurtling toward Earth), and a title that screams terror and destruction, this lively book will take you on a cheery tour of the many ways the universe is out to get us. Perhaps a meteor will barrel down to obliterate us. A nearby star going supernova would engulf the solar ...more
Dec 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book, it looks as if Phil Plait started it as "what are the chances of an astronomical event damaging society?" and finished it by wrapping up the history of the universe. If you want to cut to the quick, flip to the end where he has a chart with the probability of the following in each person's lifetime:
* asteroid impact (1/700,000)
* solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME): not measurable
* supernova (1/10 million)
* gamma ray burst (1/14 million)
* black hole (1/1 trillion)
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Philip Cary Plait, Ph.D. (aka "The Bad Astronomer") is a US astronomer, skeptic, writer and popular science blogger. He is a well known author and public figure in the fields of astronomy and science.

Plait gained his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1994. He began his career with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. His first foray into public life was with his blog that
“They say that even the brightest star won't shine forever. But in fact, the brightest star would live the shortest amount of time. Feel free to extract whatever life lesson you want from that.” 21 likes
“I am using the word theory as a scientist means it: a set of ideas so well established by observations and physical models that it is essentially indistinguishable from fact. That is different from the colloquial use that means "guess." To a scientist, you can bet your life on a theory. Remember, gravity is "just a theory" too.” 14 likes
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