Growing up, I have fond memories chanting, “Bill! Bill! Bill!” and banging on my desk, demanding the substitute teacher to put on an episode of “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” I have a thing for guys who make science fun, so it’s not all that surprising Neil Degrasse Tyson’s latest book, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” sucked me with the gravitational pull of a black hole.
Throughout the book, the “StarTalk” host provides plenty of humor. Would we expect anything less? In fact, Tyson’s vast knowledge has put him in some rather funny situations. Readers can almost hear his hearty, contagious laugh as he describes a confrontation with a server about whipped cream.
In an effort to hide the fact he had forgotten Tyson’s hot cocoa topping, the waiter says the whipped cream simply sank to the bottom. But this server should have known better. Tyson, in good humor, describes how physical laws prevent this aerated colloid from sinking to the bottom. Its low density guarantees that the whip cream would float on top of the denser liquid. With these witty asides and his clear, simplistic writing style, Tyson guarantees that readers stay interested and understand the science behind everything.
But the book carries more substantial information than just funny tales of encounters with ignorant servers. From investigating the origins of elements to the cause of galaxies’ faint blue glimmer, Tyson guides readers to a deeper understanding of the world around us.
The astrophysicist also unabashedly admits when he and other scientists don’t have the answers. For instance, some galaxy clusters have components that move more rapidly than what it should take to escape the cluster. But they don’t escape. This is one of the many mysteries that Tyson, with refreshing honesty, confesses he can’t explain.
“What we know is that the matter we have come to love in the universe—the stuff of stars, planets, and life—is only a light frosting on the cosmic cake, modest buoys afloat in a vast cosmic ocean of something that looks like nothing,” Tyson writes about how little is known about dark matter. If his ability to simultaneously compare space to a dessert and the ocean does not impress you, then I give up.
While the hardback book is small enough to throw in your purse, I definitely would not recommend reading “in a hurry” like the title suggests. To fully appreciate the content (and also not have to reread certain sections), readers should digest it in a quiet place without being rushed.
Overall Rating: 10 out of 10. It’s everything you want in a book: education and entertainment.