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Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

by Neil deGrasse Tyson

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1,866457,436 (3.98)40
Loyal readers of the monthly "Universe" essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson's talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with clarity and enthusiasm. Bringing together more than forty of Tyson's favorite essays, Death by Black Hole explores a myriad of cosmic topics, from what it would be like to be inside a black hole to the movie industry's feeble efforts to get its night skies right. One of America's best-known astrophysicists, Tyson is a natural teacher who simplifies the complexities of astrophysics while sharing his infectious fascination for our universe.… (more)
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English (44)  Czech (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
I really only got halfway through...I love me some NGT, and I could tell he was trying to make astrophysics relatable, but much of it still went way over my head. I did appreciate his puns and quips. Maybe one day I'll return for another attempt. ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
An excellent, easy to understand, humorous collection of essays on our universe. ( )
  Jimbookbuff1963 | Jun 5, 2021 |
Sciencey stuff for the non-scientist. Interesting, accessible and slightly humorous. ( )
  JohnKaess | Jul 23, 2020 |
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a great scientist and writer, and a champion of public engagement and equal opportunities in the sciences (just watch this clip if you don't believe me). Death by Black Hole is a mildly edited selection of his weekly articles from the magazine Natural History. The original articles appeared between 1995 and 2005 and cover a range of topics, although cosmology is their primary focus, what with Neil deGrasse Tyson being, you know, a cosmologist.

Even if you already know quite a lot about space and Physics there's plenty to learn within the collection, or at least re-learn in interesting ways. My own qualifications in the field extend to an A-level in Physics and, more importantly, being a former member of the erstwhile Boston Astronomers Society as a ten-year-old Lee. Yet even with that prodigious pedigree I had things to learn. Like the fact that Uranus was originally called George (I challenge you not to be amused by the notion of the solar system's eight planets being Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and George). Also: the reason clockwise is the direction that it is is because the first clocks were sundials, and they were invented in the Northern hemisphere. Since in this hemisphere the sun travels from east to west across the south of the sky the shadow moves clockwise around the sundial and this direction was inherited by those new-fangled clocks upon their invention centuries later. And then of course there was the revelation that quarks were named after a line in [b:Finnegans Wake|11013|Finnegans Wake|James Joyce|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1336408055s/11013.jpg|322098]: “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” corrsponding with the three flavours of quark that were initially proposed. This was perhaps the greatest surprise in the book, since I had no idea that anyone had read Finnegans Wake. (Although it turns out this etymology might be somewhat inaccurate. The term “quark” for the subatomic particle was apparently chosen on a whim by Murray Gell-Mann, who wasn't sure whether to pronounce it so as to rhyme with Spark or with Spork. He eventually chose the former because he saw the line in Finnegans Wake and figured that James Joyce had meant his “quark” to rhyme with Mark.)

As mentioned earlier, the collection is made up of mildly edited versions of some of Neil deGrasse Tyson's weekly articles. And therein lies the only real problem with the book – it would really have benefitted from some more substantial editing. Given that the magazine articles are spread over eleven years it makes sense that in them certain topics are repeated. Expecting the reader of the February 2003 issue of Natural History to have both read and memorised every article from 1995 onwards would be folly. But expecting the reader of page 203 in a medium-sized paperback to have read and remembered all the previous pages is not such a stretch. Sure, certain ideas are worth repeating to hammer them home, but after a while you're not banging home ideas any more, you're just hitting wood. As it were. The section on where elements come from (spoiler: the answer is space) is particularly guilty of this. Half of every article in the section is devoted either to the explanation of how all the elements up to iron are crafted in stars, or else how complex molecules form in the vast dust clouds of space. I've not heard anyone say "we are all made of stars" so much since I listened to that Moby track. The only concession to this is the occasional use of the phrase “as we saw earlier” or sometimes “as we will see later”.

This criticism is a criticism borne from love, though. Neil deGrasse Tyson writes really well and with eleven years worth of articles to choose from there were presumably essays that he could have included that he didn't include, on topics that end up not being mentioned. So when you read yet another article about where the heavier elements come from you have to wonder where these other essays argon.

Argon! Geddit? Okay, what about: when you read yet another article about where the heavier elements come from you have to wonder what other essays Neil wrote, and why he chose to barium.

Barium! Bury ’em! Geddit? Ah, forget it. ( )
1 vote imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a great scientist and writer, and a champion of public engagement and equal opportunities in the sciences (just watch this clip if you don't believe me). Death by Black Hole is a mildly edited selection of his weekly articles from the magazine Natural History. The original articles appeared between 1995 and 2005 and cover a range of topics, although cosmology is their primary focus, what with Neil deGrasse Tyson being, you know, a cosmologist.

Even if you already know quite a lot about space and Physics there's plenty to learn within the collection, or at least re-learn in interesting ways. My own qualifications in the field extend to an A-level in Physics and, more importantly, being a former member of the erstwhile Boston Astronomers Society as a ten-year-old Lee. Yet even with that prodigious pedigree I had things to learn. Like the fact that Uranus was originally called George (I challenge you not to be amused by the notion of the solar system's eight planets being Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and George). Also: the reason clockwise is the direction that it is is because the first clocks were sundials, and they were invented in the Northern hemisphere. Since in this hemisphere the sun travels from east to west across the south of the sky the shadow moves clockwise around the sundial and this direction was inherited by those new-fangled clocks upon their invention centuries later. And then of course there was the revelation that quarks were named after a line in [b:Finnegans Wake|11013|Finnegans Wake|James Joyce|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1336408055s/11013.jpg|322098]: “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” corrsponding with the three flavours of quark that were initially proposed. This was perhaps the greatest surprise in the book, since I had no idea that anyone had read Finnegans Wake. (Although it turns out this etymology might be somewhat inaccurate. The term “quark” for the subatomic particle was apparently chosen on a whim by Murray Gell-Mann, who wasn't sure whether to pronounce it so as to rhyme with Spark or with Spork. He eventually chose the former because he saw the line in Finnegans Wake and figured that James Joyce had meant his “quark” to rhyme with Mark.)

As mentioned earlier, the collection is made up of mildly edited versions of some of Neil deGrasse Tyson's weekly articles. And therein lies the only real problem with the book – it would really have benefitted from some more substantial editing. Given that the magazine articles are spread over eleven years it makes sense that in them certain topics are repeated. Expecting the reader of the February 2003 issue of Natural History to have both read and memorised every article from 1995 onwards would be folly. But expecting the reader of page 203 in a medium-sized paperback to have read and remembered all the previous pages is not such a stretch. Sure, certain ideas are worth repeating to hammer them home, but after a while you're not banging home ideas any more, you're just hitting wood. As it were. The section on where elements come from (spoiler: the answer is space) is particularly guilty of this. Half of every article in the section is devoted either to the explanation of how all the elements up to iron are crafted in stars, or else how complex molecules form in the vast dust clouds of space. I've not heard anyone say "we are all made of stars" so much since I listened to that Moby track. The only concession to this is the occasional use of the phrase “as we saw earlier” or sometimes “as we will see later”.

This criticism is a criticism borne from love, though. Neil deGrasse Tyson writes really well and with eleven years worth of articles to choose from there were presumably essays that he could have included that he didn't include, on topics that end up not being mentioned. So when you read yet another article about where the heavier elements come from you have to wonder where these other essays argon.

Argon! Geddit? Okay, what about: when you read yet another article about where the heavier elements come from you have to wonder what other essays Neil wrote, and why he chose to barium.

Barium! Bury ’em! Geddit? Ah, forget it. ( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
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My own suspicion is that the Universe

is not only queerer than we suppose,

but queerer than we can suppose.

—J. B. S. HALDANE

Possible Worlds (1927)
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I see the universe not as a collection of objects, theories, and phenomena, but as a vast stage of actors driven by intricate twists of story line and plot.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Loyal readers of the monthly "Universe" essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson's talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with clarity and enthusiasm. Bringing together more than forty of Tyson's favorite essays, Death by Black Hole explores a myriad of cosmic topics, from what it would be like to be inside a black hole to the movie industry's feeble efforts to get its night skies right. One of America's best-known astrophysicists, Tyson is a natural teacher who simplifies the complexities of astrophysics while sharing his infectious fascination for our universe.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393062244, 0393330168

 

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