Welcome to the Universe
By Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, J. Richard Gott
Princeton University Press, 472pp | Buy on Amazon
What do you get when three of the world’s leading astrophysicists band together for a book? Nothing short of the best guided tour to the cosmos, in my humble opinion. Besides being leading scientists in their fields, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richart Gott are each famous for award-winning TV programs and books that popularize science — all the spicy ingredients for an enlightening but entertaining read.
‘Welcome to the Universe’ is comprised of 24 chapters clearly divided into three sections. In the first section, which is mainly authored by Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, you learn about the scale of the universe and stars. You’ll come to understand how really smart people managed to infer our place in the universe by studying the stars, going back to the very first written down observations from 3,000 years ago. There’s also a convincing explanation for why Pluto isn’t a planet.
The second section is written by Strauss, a lecturer at Princeton University, and mainly deals with galaxies — how they form, where the Milky Way fits in all of this, and how galaxies tell us that the Universe is expanding.
In the third and final section, Gott, also a professor at Princeton, explains what Einstein’s work is all about and why his legacy is so important to astrophysics. Relativity, gravity, black holes, and time travel are just a couple of the reserved topics.
By the time you finish reading this hefty volume, you should have a good general idea of what astrophysics entails and how scientists do their jobs. The writing is very friendly and easy to follow, though you’ll find chapters reminiscent of textbooks. This is a popular science book but the authors didn’t shy from including (many) equations, charts, and graphs. Even if you lack a technical background, these are still well explained. Alas, some readers might find many of the chapters outlined in the book too complex. This may not be a book for everyone. But if you like serious science writing, this is a keeper. It’s still early but I think Welcome to the Universe might be the best science book on my list for 2017.