Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
By Neil deGrasse Tyson
Sometimes the stars align and the heavens dictate; it’s time to read a non-fiction book.
First, I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson talking enthusiastically and inspiringly about space-time on a BBC radio interview. Then my pen pal emailed me Tyson’s Cosmos TV series. And then Amazon kindle ‘randomly’ offered up Astrophysics for People in a Hurry at a discount price.
Astrophysics for Dummies may have been more my level but that is not to put anyone off. I read this book from a starting knowledge point of a few constellations, something about space and time and E=Mc2 being important. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry begins with this statement:
“For all those who are too busy to read fat books. Yet nonetheless seek a conduit to the cosmos.”
I recommended to read this book and watch the TV series Cosmos at the same time. Acting is not Tyson’s forte, just as a pre-warning. Tyson does have a beautiful voice and his explanations about complex astrophysical theories feel like honey slipping through your fingers. Reading this before sleeping is almost guaranteed to bring wild, sci-fi-related dreams inspired by the previous chapter, too. He does make you feel safe from the monsters of the solar system and an audiobook may be better before bedtime.
The chapters are generally short. The small asides and dips into religion can feel like snickering at times. However, if you do watch Cosmos alongside this, Tyson’s openness to all thought patterns and beliefs sign through. The book represents a man who is comfortable with his place in the universe and yet never afraid to admit to being too small to understand it.
Not everything made sense throughout but I do feel I have a handle on the basics now. Between Tyson and my pen pal, I’ve moved past the constant ‘why and how’ into the realm of accepting and understanding. There are some supremely simple sentences which distil the essence of complex theories that others band about to impress. Tyson is not on a mission to overwhelm you. He wants you to come along with him on this journey.
Authors who genuinely love their subject matter enrich every word with their enthusiasm. His turn of phrase and wit radiate from the pages. He talks of how he was inspired to take up astrophysics and you almost wish you were him, so you could follow the journey he is now leading you through.
Above all, Tyson is a teacher and an educator. He is still as enthralled by it all as someone new to the field. He gives the impression, with everything he explains, that he has either just understood it properly himself for the first time or has seen his field from a new angle entirely.
Yes, you can read this in a half-day. And yes you may be able to understand everything. And yes, I think you’d probably be kidding yourself. This is a genius giving us the vitals to see what he sees and how he sees it.
To quote Tyson: “The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”