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

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson
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bookshelves: audiobook, science

Within my skull, where all of those vital pieces of data surrounding science are supposed to be stored, there is instead a vast beaker-shaped void of ignorance. In high school, while we were supposed to be studying the musculature of the formaldehyde-soaked amphibians pinned ignominiously to their coffinesque metal trays, I was far more interested in studying the effects of adding fire to small green buds. During my brief time wandering the hallways of the University world, I was able to do away with my prerequisite requirement by taking an “Arts of Science” course tailor-made for those more interested in empathy than entropy and, while I did manage to get a crocodile on my report card, all I took away from that class was an abiding hatred for hippies. The long and the short of all this is that I didn’t know a quasar from a neutron or a brown dwarf from a red giant (though Red Dwarf was a magnificent television series).

As a devout lover of science fiction and hi-tech gadgetry of all sorts, this was a matter of not a little shame for me. To resolve this I decided that it was time for me to fill in some of the (immense) gaps in my education the best way I know how- via book. Yet how to avoid having my eyes glaze over the moment someone started explaining cell structures or complex wave fields? Fortunately, as it often does, my television provided a solution when Stephen Colbert took a visit to the American Museum of Natural Historys Hayden Planetarium and spoke with its Director, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson, while just as geeky as you would expect from an astrophysicist, is phenomenally skilled at taking incredibly complex scientific theories and translating them into a Common English that even Stephen Colbert is able to understand. My fate was sealed. This man was the ideal author to ease myself into the brave new world of stellar science.

Death by Black Hole is a collection of essays the Tyson penned for Natural History magazine over the course of several years. Each essay addresses a different topic, running the gamut from the birth of the universe, the history of astronomical discoveries, humankind’s fixation on the red hills of Mars and the life-bringing water that may lay frozen away, all the way to the Pluto Wars (it’s amazing just how contentious Pluto’s status as planet is). Of course there’s some overlap between the chapters and some facts get repeated but, rather than bugging me, I found it to be a good refresher of what had come before that helped solidify my basic understanding of the concepts at hand. Most interesting to me, policy junkie that I am, is the closing essay in which Tyson writes about the plague of scientific ignorance sweeping the country. After almost brutally doing away with that Bible-in-textbook-clothing anachronism that is “intelligent design,” he makes great points about America’s waning prestige in scientific research and the future costs, both economic and academic, that we will have to pay due to ceding our intellectual priority to advance knowledge. I’m not much interested in sustaining American supremacy in any field, but I can always get behind an argument for strengthening education.

What I most enjoyed was the excitement that Tyson has for his field. He doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of atomic weights and the like, but thrills at the possibilities of quantum mechanics and takes an almost excessive amount of joy in ruminating over the possible ways that people can be killed in space from the atom-splitting nullification of crossing a black hole’s event horizon to the persistent fear of a species-leveling asteroid striking Earth. Tyson is a man possessed of a childlike sense of wonder at the mysteries of the universe that sees the current limits of our scientific understanding not as having reached the final frontiers of science but as hurdles to be vaulted over in our quest to know. His enthusiasm is quite contagious and I challenge any reader to emerge from this book without being excited about science.
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Reading Progress

November 9, 2009 – Shelved
November 9, 2009 – Shelved as: audiobook
November 9, 2009 – Shelved as: science
November 17, 2009 –
0.0% "The way the reader pronounces Milky Way (sounds like "noonkey way) is extremely distracting."
Started Reading
December 14, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by CR (new)

CR *LOL* SyFy! That killed me.... reference to the once-named "Sci Fi" channel?

Nathan Henrion this is one of the most fascinating, hilarious, and well put takes on a book that I have ever read...well done. Great book too.

message 3: by Deanna (new) - added it

Deanna Necula great review! I'm a policy junkie too...

Sarah Haaa, at my university a class on, more or less, turning on a computer satisfied the science requirement.

message 5: by Menna (new) - added it

Menna is there any download links ???

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