Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Book Review

 


Astrophysics for People in a HurryBook Genre: Non-Fiction, Science, Audiobook, Physics

Book Series: N/A

Released: 5/2/17 by W.W. Norton

Pages: 222  Price: $18.95 Hardcover

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Buy the book: Amazon Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Source: I borrowed this book from my library

 

 

Book Synopsis:

The essential universe, from our most celebrated and beloved astrophysicist.

What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe. 

My Review:

Not quite sure why I put this on my library wish list.  Oh sure I like science fiction but this is science fact and quite frankly I’m not that smart.  Still, I’m a fan of smart people and have enjoyed this author’s cameos on some of my favorite shows like The Big Bang Theory.  I must have been drawn to the beautiful cover of this book and hoped that it wouldn’t be too far above my ability to understand.

Good news!  It wasn’t.  Thanks to some of my favorite shows for basing their plots on real science I did find myself familiar with much of the terms and ideas in this set of essays.  It also helped that Mr. Tyson does an excellent job of making the topics discussed in this book accessible to most people.

The author narrates the book as well in the audio format which was delightful and really made the dad humor come to life.  I found my self both chuckling and groaning while I listened to this fairly short book.  It was just under 4 hours long and I was able to finish it on a quiet morning before work.

There are also some great quotable lines in the book too.  Not to give too much away but these are some of my favorites: ” The Universe is under no Obligation to make sense to you“, “We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out” (this one really spoke to me today), and perhaps the most fun quote ” Yes, Einstein was a badass.

As someone who is disheartened with the anti-science tone that The United States is embracing politically and culturally, I simply loved this book.  It is exactly what I needed to give me hope that all is not lost in this country as long as scientists continue to pursue truth.  Hopefully, reason and science will once again reign in this country.  After all “The Power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them.  In other words, after the law of physics, everything else is an opinion”.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman

Book Review

 


The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You KnewBook Genre: Non-Fiction, Science, Audio Book

Book Series: N/A

Released: 1/14/14 by Blackstone Audiobooks

Pages:157  Price: $13.35 Paperback

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Buy the Book: Amazon The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Lightman, Alan (2014) Hardcover

Source: I actually own this book, but I ended up listening to the audio book from my library.

Book Synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of Einstein’s Dreams and Mr g, a meditation on the unexpected ways in which recent scientific findings have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

With all the passion, curiosity, and precise yet lyrical prose that have marked his previous books, Alan Lightman here explores the emotional and philosophical questions raised by discoveries in science, focusing most intently on the human condition and the needs of humankind. He looks at the difficult dialogue between science and religion; the conflict between our human desire for permanence and the impermanence of nature; the possibility that our universe is simply an accident; the manner in which modern technology has separated us from direct experience of the world; and our resistance to the view that our bodies and minds can be explained by scientific logic and laws. And behind all of these considerations is the suggestion—at once haunting and exhilarating—that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the extraordinary, perhaps unfathomable whole.

My Review:

I tried to read this little book a while back but just couldn’t get into it.  While I am interested in the topics this book discusses I am not that bright when it comes to science and math.  Much of it was a struggle to understand.  Simply put it was too much work…  I’ve been enjoying listening to non-fiction audio books recently, especially those with a science leaning, so when I saw this one was available and not that long I decided to listen rather than read this book.  So. much. easier.

This isn’t a very long book and is a collection of essays really on philosophy and physics.  Much of the science still went over my head but I did appreciate the philosophical discussion related to the advances in technology and knowledge.  I know I just finished listening to it so the chapter is freshest in my mind, but I enjoyed the last chapter the best which delved into how technology is changing the way we interact with not only each other but the world around us.  The idea of the virtual world not so slowly replacing the importance of the real world was fascinating and most likely true.

I’m glad I made it through this one, even if I had to listen to it.  The book provided a lot of food for thought and would be another great book to listen to with someone who you could debate the topics further with.  If this one crosses your path why not give it a listen too.

My Rating: 3 Stars

What If? by Randall Munroe

Book Review

 


What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsBook Genre: Non-Fiction

Book Series: N/A

Released: 9/2/14 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Pages: 303  Price: Hard cover $14.66

Links:  Goodreads, Author’s Site

Source: I borrowed this audio book from my library

 

Book Synopsis:

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ He liked these questions so much that he started up What If.
If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?
How dangerous is it, really, to be in a swimming pool in a thunderstorm?
If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?
What if everyone only had one soulmate?
When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British empire?
How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?
What would happen if the moon went away?
In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

My Review:

I borrowed this book simply because I wanted to listen to an audio book read by Wil Wheaton.  This book also just happened to sound interesting as well, even if it was non-fiction.  I have to say I was not disappointed one bit, this book was so much fun and I am going to have to start following the author’s website.

Not a lot I can review about the book.  It is what it is; the author answers crazy questions poised to him using science.  It makes you wonder and wish you had paid better attention in science class, if only so much math wasn’t involved…  It also makes one think that there are some seriously disturbed people out there in the world.  The book is set up so that each chapter tackles a different question with break chapters where the author shares with us some of the truly disturbing questions that have been ask.  Wil Wheaton is perhaps the perfect narrator for this book as his voice adds the perfect amount of snark and inflection that bring the answers to life.  I will have to seek other books that he has read to see what I think of them as well.

Like I said this was a fun listen.  Perfect for a car ride where you don’t necessarily want a story that might have inappropriate scenes for some of the passengers.  This would be great for a ride with teens as it might spark an interest in the sciences and lead to some great discussion.

My Rating: 4 stars

Animal Wise by Virginia Morell- 5 Stars

Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel

Click on the cover to visit book’s Goodreads page.

      Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
      They also asked that I share the following two links with you all.

Click here to visit author’s page over at Random House.

Click here to purchase the title from Random House Publishing.

Book Synopsis from Goodreads:

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a fish? Or a parrot, dolphin, or an elephant?  Do they experience thoughts that are similar to ours, or have feelings of grief and love? These are tough questions, but scientists are answering them. They know that ants teach and rats love to be tickled. They’ve discovered that dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice their songs in their sleep. But how do scientists know these things?
   
Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals and among the pioneering researchers who are leading the way into once-forbidden territory: the animal mind. Morell uses her formidable gifts as a storyteller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to animal-cognition scientists and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. In this surprising and moving book, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond.

I don’t venture into Non-Fiction very often, but when I do books about animals is one of the subjects I will pick up.  Those of you that know me, or follow me on Instagram, know that I share my life with quite the menagerie of furred and feathered creatures.  And this book wasn’t quite a stretch for me personally, or would it be for any animal lover/pet owner really.  IF you share you life with animals you have no doubt what so ever that animals are intelligent, feeling creatures, filled with their own wants, dislikes and agenda.  When I requested it for review I hoped this book would be an interesting look into how the scientific community was proving what many of us lay people already know.

The book was a little slow to start off, I already read non-fiction at a much slower pace than fiction, but the introduction was bogged down with a lot of technical information about the history of research involving animals.  How the scientific community has historically viewed animal’s intelligence and emotions.  In my opinion its kinda insulting and the disregard they showed the animals in their care was horrific at times to read about.  It was also very dry reading and I struggled to push on.  I understand and appreciate the need for this background information, especially since I am coming at this book with little foreknowledge, but that still didn’t make it any easier to get through.  I made it though, and encourage you to stick with it if you want to know more or skip it and get into the different studies about the various animals featured in each chapter.

After you get past the history lesson on scientific study of animals you get to the most interesting part of the book, or what you probably signed up for when you decided to read this book.  There are ten chapters each featuring a different a type of animal or a different approach to studying them.  For example there are two different chapters talking about dolphins, one focuses on animals in captivity the other on animals studied in the wild.  The chapters are filled with delightful observations and antidotes that the researchers shared with the author as well as her observations from her visits to the different studies.  These sections gave me quite a bit to think about, even though I am an animal lover I still hadn’t thought much of why ants or fish do the things they do.  While in the middle of this book I visited the vet for my cat and as I sat there in the waiting room I noticed a fish tank with two large fish of some sort inside.  The book made me take a closer look at them and I wondered what would their world be like for them.  Do they notice the clients that come and go, bringing different animals in for care?  Are they here for our entertainment or are we theirs?   Also make me rethink any future fishing trips we might have planned…

It wasn’t all fun stories from field and lab studies.  Some aspects of how animals are still treated in studies upset me while reading this book.  I had a particularly difficult time with the chapter on rats.  Hopefully through learning more about animals and their feelings  future projects will be more like the Japanese program for studying chimpanzees were the animals are treated more as partners than experiments.  Still it important to read about the bad along with the good.  We will not change if we shy away from things that are unpleasant.

I wanted to share with you some of my favorite observations or quotes from the book.  They are all near the end and I don’t believe I am going to be spoiling anything for you, after all this is not a story. I’m not giving away a plot by sharing these lines.  Still if you don’t want to know, stop reading here.

The first quote is from the Japanese scientist, Tetsura Matsuzawa, that works with chimpanzees:

” I really do not understand this need for us always to be superior in all domains.  Or to be separate, so unique from every other animal,” he said. “We are not. We are not plants; we are members of the animal kingdom.”

I so wish more people thought like this.  We are not above animals or below them, and we are not all that different either.  We have just evolved differently, adapted differently to fit our environments and needs.   There is much we can learn from the fellow creatures that share this planet with us.  Maybe we would not feel so isolated if we realized this or perhaps we’d be much humbler.  I definitely think animals would be better off as well if more people thought as Mr. Matsusawa.

Which leads to another passage written by the author:

“We were wrong about why these animals behave as they do, in part, I think, because most of us do not grant animals even the simplest form of thought, or recognize that they do things intentionally.”

Again animals are not so different from us.  I love spending time with my birds (peafowl, chickens, guineas, and a very affectionate turkey), and I see this everyday.  I love watching the drama that plays out in my coop.  They have very strong reasons behind their behavior and hierarchy, and you only need to pay attention to realize this.  Is it so hard to see that a cow just turned out to pasture after a long winter is experiencing joy.  Or that a peacock that lost his mate to a raccoon attack is mourning her loss.

One more and then I’m almost done, if you’ve managed to stay with me this long…  This is perhaps one of the most tragic ideas in the book and I hope it makes you think as it did me.  The author writes:

“I once suggested to my editor that we keep a weekly or monthly tally box, announcing that such-and-such a creature has just gone extinct – its behaviors, mind, thoughts, and ways, its beauty vanished from our planet.”

Once these animals are extinct they are gone forever, (yes, I know about cloning but that isn’t necessarily a solution) and our world is a poor place for their absence.  Every animal has a purpose on this planet and we need to find a way to protect the animals that share our home instead of causing them to disappear.

Wow, perhaps I should not have gone on so long…  Bottom line this is a good book and I hope you read it.  I hope it makes you think.  I hope it changes you.