Why Everyone Should (and Can) Read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s New Book

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Science is intimidating. Despite the fact that we live our lives constantly interacting with and relying on technology and the science that forms the foundation of our modern lives, the vast majority of people regard science as a discipline and general body of knowledge that is beyond their ability to understand, control, or use.

Not everyone was born to be a scientist, of course, and we all have areas that interest us more (or less) and in which we demonstrate more (or less) aptitude.

That makes it easy to imagine that science is both unnecessary for our daily lives as well as impenetrable—after all, a subject like astrophysics doesn't seem like something you're going to need for the Monday morning scrum meeting, and it also seems like an unimaginably vast subject that relies on math far more than most people are prepared for.

And those things are both true—if you are discussing necessity and mastery. But there's a middle ground between being, say, Neil deGrasse Tyson and simply being curious about the universe we exist in. The fact is, a book like Astrophysics for People in a Hurry offers more than dry, stiff scientific knowledge—and there are plenty of reasons everyone should read it.

Perspective

There’s a reason that the stars have fascinated us for pretty much the entirety of human existence. No matter what your philosophy, religion, or political slant, the stars and planets in the night sky represent obvious proof that we are just a small part of a much, much larger whole—and that means the possibilities are endless.

Is there life out there? Other habitable planets? Will it all end in a “Big Crunch” or Heat Death or will it go on forever? You may not realize it, but every time you look up at the night sky—or check your horoscope—these questions flash through some level of your consciousness.

That can be disturbing, because those questions are huge, and we don’t have a lot of answers for them.

What Tyson aims to accomplish with this short book is to give you an anchor of knowledge to demystify the universe a little. That kind of perspective is crucial, because those huge, universal-scale questions also inform and affect our small-scale interactions and decisions here on Earth. The more you know about how the universe works, the less susceptible to fake news, fake science, and scaremongering you’ll be. Knowledge, after all, is power.

Entertainment

That being said, Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most accomplished and charming writers and speakers in our modern world. If you’ve ever seen him interviewed or read any of his articles, you know that the man knows how to write. He manages to make these complicated scientific concepts not only seem comprehensible, but downright entertaining. He’s just that guy you enjoy listening to, and his writing style often evokes the chummy sense that you’re sitting down and having drinks with him as he talks about his day at work. The writing in Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is peppered with anecdotes about famous scientists, interesting little asides about a whole range of things, and plain old jokes. It’s one of those books that will fuel your cocktail party chatter for months to come as you dole out some of the fascinating facts you glean from its pages.

Format

If you’re still feeling intimidated by the word astrophysics, relax. The chapters in this book were originally separate essays and articles Tyson has published over the years, which means the book comes at you in bite-size, easily digestible chunks—and there’s no test at the end. This is the sort of science book you can read in easygoing bits and pieces, because Tyson’s goal isn’t to turn you into a scientist overnight. His goal is to leave you familiar with the fundamentals.

The chapters aren’t overly long, and there’s no math. Let’s repeat that: There is no math. There’s also no jargon or scary scientist lingo—Tyson knows who his intended audience is, and he writes in a chatty, open style. Jargon is designed to close off a conversation to only people in the know, and Tyson avoids it like the plague, opting instead for a vocabulary that everyone, no matter their personal scientific background, will be comfortable with.

The end result? No, you won’t be a Ph.D. in astrophysics when you finish the book, but you will have a clear understanding of the forces that control our universe. Knowledge is power, and this is some of the most important knowledge you can learn.

Bottom line: This is a fun, fascinating, and informative book that requires no prep work to read, and might just leave you smarter than when you came in. There’s no reason not to read it.