Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Image of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Release Date: 
May 1, 2017
W. W. Norton & Company
Reviewed by: 

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of our leading science writers who has a talent for making complicated ideas built of math and physics accessible to people who aren't experts in those fields. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a prime example of that skill, and the genuine love of the subject that drives it. In less than 250 pages, it tackles all the Big Ideas in modern astronomy: from the birth of the universe, through its evolution into the one we see today; from the current puzzles of dark matter and dark energy to what it means to be a part of the galaxy.

It's a light book about heavy issues—heavy as in, wildly different than the usual day-to-day experience of the world, rather than as in, in any way upsetting. On the contrary, the way Tyson describes reality and the farthest frontiers of science is uplifting and inspiring.

Broken into manageable chapters and then into smaller idea-nuggets inside them, it's fun and exciting to read. He's made a career of helping people understand these things and love them the way he does, and Astrophysics makes it easy to both comprehend and to love even the most complex concept he tackles by tying it to things that matter on a human scale. Adding emotion to bare facts is perhaps his real talent.

The title is vaguely overstating, however: this is a book about the concepts that astrophysics have brought us, but there isn't so much as a single equation beyond E=mc2  and very little discussion of what any of the math actually is. This is probably for the best; actual math in it would make it longer and denser, limiting its appeal—and it's very appealing. Don't let the title make it seem otherwise.

It would have been nice to have visuals though, pictures of the amazing things he's talking about, or graphs, or some other way to visualize things most humans have never seen.

This is a fantastic starter book for the big ideas of astronomy and cosmology, but it's also an up-to-date rundown for people who have studied it before; it doesn't talk down to either group, and explains concepts and background as quickly, clearly, and concisely as possible. It could easily be the start of a collection of related fast-read science books (and if they all had covers like this one, it'd be a gorgeous set), but it stands on its own just as well.

Science books have come a long way since Carl Sagan, and if they're going to continue being as easy to read and enjoy as this one, it's been a good trip. In a time where science seems beyond everyday life and the average person can't often easily understand it intuitively as they might once have, books like Astrophysics for People in a Hurry are needed. And this particular one makes it all seem wonderful—and more than that, it makes it seem like it matters and actually can be easily understood.