I ummed and ahhed about reviewing this on here because of the recent allegations against Neil deGrasse Tyson. I don’t bother reviewing every audiobook I listen to or every book I read, so it wouldn’t have been a deliberate exclusion were it not for the fact that I really love NdGT and would certainly have written it up without a second thought before. I’ve been googling him a lot lately to see if there’s any more news about the investigations into his conduct and am anxious to know the outcome.
In the end, I’ve decided to write it up because, whatever NdGT may have done, the science still stands up, and this isn’t just his book as it was written in collaboration with two other astrophysicists he taught with at Princeton, Michael Strauss (a notable astronomer) and Richard Gott (a time travel theorist).
When I say the science stands, I’m taking a leap of faith here. As discussed previously, I am no mathematician. Anything off the cuff tougher than long multiplication and I’m stumped. Long division I can just about manage with a piece of paper, but that’s it. I’m an actual maths thicky, but I enjoy learning about the broad outlines of theoretical physics and like to watch shows and read books about it. I did do a ten point beginners OU course years ago titled Galaxies, Stars, and Planets, which was very interesting but I never could grasp the maths bits. I passed, but it wasn’t with flying colours!
This was like a more interesting version of the textbook I had for that course. There’s a lot of maths, which I couldn’t have begun to understand even if I’d had the book in front of me. Listening to the formulas read aloud I just zoned out. I couldn’t even picture it with all the weird numbers and the Greek letters and shit. I mean, I know what lambda looks like, for example, and they did say what it represents but… It was in one ear and out the other. All I took from one particularly lambda heavy equation is that you can use maths to determine what a planet is, which I hope was the key point.
Rather a lot of this went over my head if I’m honest. If you’re talking the theory of relativity I can follow, if you’re talking in detail about observations made that confirm relativity I begin to struggle, and as I’ve said, if you’re discussing the maths of theoretical physics, I’m completely stumped. My last PopSci audiobook, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, was too basic. This was too complex for me and covered a lot of virgin territory. There was stuff about strings, for example, that I’ll have to revisit because it was new to me and I’ve forgotten all of it already. It was wibbly wobbly timey wimey, but beyond that, I couldn’t say.
At almost eighteen hours, it was also very long, and Gott and Strauss’s essay were a smidge dryer than NdGT’s. However, he gets to relate stories about going to a Hollywood premiere of Contact or getting stuck in the middle of a media controversy over the status Pluto (it’s the largest Kuiper Belt object so far discovered, Jerry).
Overall, this is not a book for beginners, nor is it a book for audiobook enthusiasts as there are a lot of diagrams and equations brought up that you don’t have access to in an audiobook. However, if you are simply looking to enjoy some lectures and aren’t worried about the nitty-gritty elements, I think it’s pretty good.