Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

This succinct book from Neil DeGrasse Tyson is exactly what the title says — it is a quick recap of the biggest ideas that help us understand the universe. The audiobook was maybe four hours long, whereas most other books I have listened to are in the 10–15 hour range. It was a fine book, some interesting stories and told in a pretty attainable language, but seemed a little too brief.

Tyson walks through some of the biggest ideas about the stuff that make up the cosmos, including giving a lot of shout-outs to individual members of the periodic table, which was a very fun portion of the book. During that part he also talked through some of the name origins, why things are named after historical stories or gods. He also walks through galactic expansion, dark matter, dark energy, string theory, and other ideas that are pretty far-out for ordinary citizens (pun intended!). It was fascinating hearing him speak so confidently about what we do know, and then simultaneously saying we don’t know where 80% of the universe’s matter comes from, so we just call it ‘dark.’ I suppose that confidence is necessary to become a well-known astrophysicist, but I’d expect that some of what we ‘know’ today will break down in future generations, as they learn more and more about this unknown quantity.

Having read a couple books on these topics by Brian Greene some years back, and as I try to stay current on the advanced scientific knowledge of today, the book didn’t do a whole lot for expanding my knowledge or understanding of how the world works. He did have some fun tidbits, like the number of molecules in a single cup of water is larger than the number of cups of water available on earth; he also tried to wrap up with inspiration, about the beauty and greatness of exploring far-out galaxies and how we should strive for greater understanding. It was good, and he’s certainly a talented speaker/writer/author, and his voice is tremendous on the audiobook and in real life, it just didn’t do a whole lot for me. I enjoyed it, it was fun to think about a vastly different life experience than mine, but it won’t change how I think about the world.