Emma Sea's Reviews > Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson
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bookshelves: auckland-library, non-fiction, astrophysics

My main dissatisfaction with this book is that it's a series of collected magazine columns. This does seem a bit like criticising an apple because it's not a banana, however I think Tyson would have be been better advised to hire an editor to whip this into an actual book, rather than just reprint the original short essays. For example, in chapter 25 Tyson critiques the concept of the "Goldilocks Zone", discussing the myriad ways life could flourish in environments entirely dissimilar to our own e.g. in seas of liquid ammonia or methane. But then in the following chapter Tyson contends that life will only originate on a planet with a temperature that allows liquid water i.e. in the Goldilocks Zone. Originally these essays would have been published months or years apart, but juxtaposed like this it is a frustrating read, to say the least.

The other problem with short essays is that things just start to get interesting and it's over. In chapter 21 Tyson briefly mentions technetium; an element with a half-life of only 2 million years, but which is nevertheless found in red giant stars.

"In other words, the star cannot have been born with the stuff, for if it were there would be none left by now. There is also no known mechanism to create technetium in a star's core and have it dredge itself up to the surface where it is observed, which has led to exotic theories that have yet to achieve consensus in the astrophysics community"

But you know, those diverse and exotic theories are exactly what I'd like to hear about! That was the most interesting part of the book for me, and it just gets left lying gasping on the floor.

Also, sadly, the book is aimed at someone who has done little or no prior science reading; a far broader generalist audience that I hoped for. I 100% agree with Maria's review, when she says this would be a good high-school-level book. If you don't generally read pop-science, but would like to learn more about how our universe works, I definitely recommend this book. Tyson is a great writer: engaging and able to explain complex ideas simply, with a dash of humour.

For me it's a 2.5, rounded up.
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Reading Progress

December 29, 2012 – Started Reading
December 29, 2012 – Shelved
December 29, 2012 –
page 17
4.43% "". . . our species is dumber than we normally admit to ourselves.""
January 4, 2013 –
page 205
53.39% ""It's always best to avoid things that decompose the molecules of your flesh.""
January 4, 2013 –
page 359
93.49% ""So the universe wants to kill us all.""
January 4, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 5, 2013 – Shelved as: non-fiction
January 5, 2013 – Shelved as: auckland-library
January 5, 2013 – Shelved as: astrophysics

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