The ability to translate complex concepts into simple to understand ideas is frequently difficult, but to do it with humour requires a special gift. Almost forty years ago, the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan achieved a milestone in his epic and television series “Cosmos”, by presenting the then current thought on the wonders of the universe to an ordinary audience. The audience responded to Sagan’s style and deep love of the subject, making both the series and the book bestsellers.
Science has moved forward at phenomenal speed in the past forty years but the basic questions about the nature of time and space and where we, as humans, fit into the universe haven’t changed. In this book, acclaimed scientist, author and PBS host, Neil deGrasse Tyson has broken up concepts such as the Big Bang, quarks and the search for life on other planets into bit size chunks. In this short book, Tyson explains using wit and everyday comparisons to illustrate the current theories of how the universe works. He doesn’t shy away from controversy and areas where science is still in its infancy, such as the study of ‘dark matter’ and presents different sides of theories frankly. The book feels light and is frequently broken up with charming anecdotes, such as how when noted British astronomer William Herschel found a new planet in 1781, he wanted to name it “George”, after the King. Fortunately, the Royal Society chose “Uranus”, instead.
In these days when science and especially science used for profit affects the lives of millions daily, it is necessary to have a working knowledge of how the world works. While the book really only touches on many areas lightly, it’s a fascinating peck at the amazing universe that surrounds us.