Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Latest Book Makes Astrophysics Dead Simple

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

W. W. Norton & Company

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s newest book, released in May and meant to teach basic astrophysics to a general audience. It might be a little too simple for people who already know a bit about the topic, but for curious people with no background in astrophysics, it breaks down the science very well in one 208-page volume.

A lot of its style and tone is Biblical: “In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends on this sentence.” There are clear parallels between this and Genesis. Although I can see why deGrasse Tyson took this stylistic choice, it not only comes off as a bit pretentious and condescending but is also borrowing style from a book whose style has suffered from years of translation errors. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry does have much better prose than the textbooks that would teach astrophysics in a university setting though, so I will give him that.

What this book lacks in prose, however, it delivers in content. It is jam packed from cover to cover with no-nonsense, just-the-basics astrophysics. If you don’t know anything about the topic and want to, this is a book for you. It explains complex concepts in a very simple way, and even goes into their history. True to its title, it is also a very quick read—a single chapter took me less than 10 minutes to read—meaning it could fit into anyone’s busy schedule.

For readers who know quite a bit about astrophysics already, I would recommend waiting for this book to be available at your local library. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is written for people who don’t know astrophysics at all, so if you have a bit of background, it might not have a lot to teach you. As a physics student, the book seemed very airy to me; in particular, I felt like there wasn’t enough calculus. That’s good for the demographic it’s aiming for, though, since calculus is made out by contemporary media to be a bit of a boogie man, and the public school system has not found a way to teach mathematics effectively in its cookie cutter one-size-fits-all formula. Still, it felt soul crushing to have another book that’s marketing “science to the masses” by discarding the mathematics that makes it possible. The popular-science industry needs to stop believing that math is too scary for the average person and start believing that cookie-cutter math teaching is the real problem. The lack of accessible books on the subject is making the problem worse, not better.

Ultimately, I think that Astrophysics for People in a Hurry has value as a basic introduction to the subject. If you don’t know anything about the subject and want to learn quickly, it’s meant for you. But if you’re already into astrophysics, there are better books about science to spend your weekend reading.

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