The study of astronomical objects or bodies can seem daunting – especially for those who are not physics-literate – and in this vein Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” gives a good overview of astrophysics and answers common questions in a more accessible manner. The book starts by documenting the cosmological theory of the Big Bang, then the expansion of the universe, as well as the contents of the universe, such as the planets and galaxies as we know them. And while the overall narrative is still complex at parts, Tyson combines the theoretical or scientific explanations with references to pop culture, historical events, and literary texts.
What is likely to result from this collection of 12 essays is a slightly better understanding of both observational and theoretical physics – and how they have evolved – as well as the questions that astrophysicists are still grappling with. Some sparks of curiosity should emerge too. Terms which I went to find out more about while reading includes the cosmic microwave background (said to be a remnant and evidence of the Big Bang) and its temperature, the cosmological constant or lambda introduced by theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (and its relation to the dark energy which is hypothesised to permeate all of space), and the never-observed dark matter.
Two key themes also stand out in “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”. First, that of ignorance and the pursuit of knowledge: “People who believe they are ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon, the boundary between what is known and unknown in the universe”, and how emerging theories of modern cosmology continue to challenge the status quo. And second, that of the vastness of the universe and the comparative smallness and insignificance of mankind (and its hubris): “Part the curtains of society’s racial, ethnic, religious, national, and cultural conflicts, and you find the human ego turning the knobs and pulling the levers”.