Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Posted on December 22, 2021

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
My Rating: 5/5

I’m not sure that I love the title of the book, but at the same time – it was accurate. This book explained astrophysics from the Big Bang to quarks and atoms to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and on through to the multiverse, in plain English (mostly). Some of it was a general overview of Science – physics and chemistry – and some of it was a look out into the cosmos through the Milky Way and beyond. It was not a hard read, but I sure thought hard about some of the topics.

There were a couple of parts of this book that really made some things make sense for me. For example,

…looking out into the cosmos is analogous to a geologist looking across sedimentary strata, where the history of the rock formation is laid out in full view. Cosmic distances are so vast that the travel time for light to reach us can be millions or even billions of years.

I knew that the light we see from stars took years to get to us, but his analogy of looking at sedimentary strata made perfect sense. The further out into the cosmos we look, the further back in history we go. In a later chapter, he later says that we’re looking out into our past, almost to the beginning of time itself.

Another analogy he used that made sense to me was in describing our known universe. He suggests it might be like a ship on the ocean and we only know our ship. But perhaps there are other ships on the ocean as well that we haven’t come into contact with yet – those would be other universes and the ocean is the multiverse.

There were some parts of the book that weren’t so interesting to me. For example, there was a chapter on the periodic table of elements which was boring. And there were parts that I still can’t wrap my head around like the Dark Matter – which he states is not matter that happens to be dark, it’s something else altogether and Dark Energy he says even the scientists are clueless about.

He ends the book with some philosophical notes and how we are drinking the same water as Socrates and breathing the same air as Beethoven. Then he says

Earth was once assumed to be astronomically unique, until astronomers learned that Earth is just another planet orbiting the Sun. Then we presumed the Sun was unique, until we learned that the countless stars of the night sky are suns themselves. Then we presumed our galaxy, the Milky Way, was the entire known universe, until we established that the countless fuzzy things in the sky are other galaxies, dotting the landscape of our known universe.

Today, how easy it is to presume that one universe is all there is.”

The book was good because it was easy to read, fast paced, and made me think hard on several occasions.