Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Never Be Lost in Space Again

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Never Be Lost in Space Again

Article excerpt

Celestial bodies are stripped of mystery in a lively guide that sounds a warning, says Marcus Chown

Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour

By Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss and J. Richard Gott Princeton University Press 472pp, £29.95 ISBN 9780691157245 Published 19 October 2016

If you have a passing interest in astrophysics and would like to deepen it, this book is for you. Neta Bahcall, the director of undergraduate studies at Princeton University, asked its three authors to create an astrophysics course specifically for non-science majors. Welcome to the Universe is the book of the course.

The trio are more than qualified to have taken on the task. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium, is America's best-known astronomy populariser - the Carl Sagan of his day. Richard Gott, a Princeton academic, is an expert on Einstein's theory of gravity and cosmology, and the author of best-selling popular science books on subjects such as time travel. And, to complete the trio, Michael Strauss, a colleague of Gott's at Princeton, had just discovered the most distant known quasar in the universe.

Each covers his area of expertise - from planets to stars to cosmology. The breadth and depth of coverage is impressive. In fact, I am reminded of reading The Feynman Lectures on Physics. The Nobel laureate's addresses were famous for baffling their undergraduate target audience at the California Institute of Technology and appealing instead to the faculty. I am glad to say, however, that these Princeton lectures, although demanding, are more accessible than Richard Feynman's.

What is most impressive about this book is the way the authors lay out the fundamentals clearly and simply, and yet also take the reader to the present-day frontier of astronomy. All the hottest topics are covered. …

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