Catalin Negru's Reviews > Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson
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Dec 20, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: science

Target audience: Mainly common people fascinated, interested or even curious about astronomy and how the Universe work.

About the author: According to Wikipedia, Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003. Tyson's research has focused on observations in cosmology, stellar evolution, galactic astronomy, bulges, and stellar formation. He has held numerous positions at institutions including the University of Maryland, Princeton University, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Hayden Planetarium.


Structure of the book: The book has 384 pages, divided in a Prologue and seven sections; the sections are subsequently divided into 42 smaller parts (chapters) totally.

Overview:Even if you never heard or seen Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking, when you start reading the book you immediately realize that he is very intelligent. Why? For the simple fact that he has the gift of making complicated things look simple, accessible to anyone. It is one thing to be an expert in your field, and a totally different thing to be able to explain your field to people who have no idea about it. In this aspect Neil deGrasse Tyson excels. His style is relaxed and anything but dry, while his enthusiasm for the subject bleeds on the page.
Despite its name, the book is not only or even mainly about black holes, how we understand them or how they affect us in the future. “Death by black hole” is in fact the name of the 33th chapter, not even of the first chapter or of a section; as if the author chose a random title of a chapter and put it as a general title. The book is not even only about astronomy astrophysics, but about science; the path it had to take to come to this point of exploring black holes and many other wonders of the Universe, and also about the many challenges science has to face in our human world (human ignorance in particular). Because this is what black holes are: true wonders. And the Universe has many, many wonders waiting for us to discover them; we only have to be willing to search for them.
“Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries” is a collection of small essays that deGrasse Tyson has written for various newspapers, magazines, and internet blogs. Together, these essays constitute science advocacy by exploring the importance of and important issues in astrophysics as well as general discoveries in science. Any fan of popular science will find at least one of the essays worth reading. It is a must-read for anyone that looks up at the night sky and asks questions. If you are a science fan and you have an initial understanding of physics, then you will get the full experience intended by Tyson; if you are a stranger to science, this book will be like a beautiful trip into a magic realm.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has inherited Carl Sagan’s unofficial Science Ambassadorship to the People. And, from this position, “Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries” is one of his statements in favor of science. Even though we use smartphones and have satellites in orbit, science still is plagued with misconceptions and thus it needs as many charismatic spokespersons as possible to promote the field in an interesting and insightful way, without ignoring the realities of how it all really works.
The book takes the readers through the cosmos, for their beginning and to their ultimate end, to enthrall and inform his audience. Tyson goes into exceptional detail of the physics behind our universe, but manages to remove all the technical jargon that would leave most confused and frustrated; therefore allowing readers to become better educated in an area of convoluted theories and fundamental dilemmas, such as quantum mechanics and where it should fit in the “Theory of Everything”, first conceived by Stephen Hawking.
One of the most interesting parts was the connection to how social problems impact the study of astrophysics; especially when religion comes into play. Tyson reminds us that religion and science do not make a good team. Never. On the contrary, history proved this aspect over and over again and today it is no different from yesterday. Giordano Bruno, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei – there are many examples in the history of the Western civilization of how religion slowed or even reversed scientific progress and the development of knowledge. However, probably the most important and clear lesson in this matter is the fate and evolution of the Islamic civilization. It was the most advanced in the 10th century and we have so many things in science today due to the Islamic/Arabic civilization, but, due to rise of religious fundamentalism, it came to be today the main producer of terrorism.
Bottom line, if you want a few laughs, and if you want to learn about astrophysics, astronomy, “regular” physics, and all the other amazing things that happen in our cosmos, then this the book to read.


Quote: Believe me, if the Bible had ever been shown to be a rich source of scientific answers and understanding, we would be mining it daily for cosmic discovery. Yet my vocabulary of scientific inspiration strongly overlaps with that of religious enthusiasts. I, like others, am humbled in the presence of the objects and phenomena of our universe. And I go misty with admiration for its splendor.

Strong points: The book is very rich in details and very easy to follow. And that is a big plus. In addition, as always, Neil deGrasse Tyson has a very simple and direct approach to present science both in an informative and humorous way. It makes reading this book a delight. If you only seen Tyson talking or keeping speeches live or on the Internet, then the book have the same pleasant and entertaining tone. It is a pleasure to listen to and to read his material.

Weak points: I personally enjoyed the book, but the disjointed essay format might not be appealing to some people. One can also see Tyson as an opinionated person. Moreover, the information is sometimes repetitive and I find it a little too lengthy. In my opinion the real value of the book is 4,5 stars. But, because I can’t give it 4,5 stars, I think it is fair to rate it negatively at 4 stars.

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Quotes Catalin Liked

Neil deGrasse Tyson
“Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries


Reading Progress

August 3, 2016 – Shelved
August 3, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
December 16, 2016 – Started Reading
December 18, 2016 –
page 212
55.21%
December 20, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 9, 2017 – Shelved as: science

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