Ambitious overview of astronomy, by the author of Strange Brains and Genius (1998), whose material here seems far more often strewn than marshaled.
Popular-science journalist Pickover’s central belief—that the “stars of heaven” yield the essential secrets of existence itself and, in so doing, are a spiritual as well as scientific resource—is shared by many. Nonetheless, he spends too much of an overcrowded agenda initially selling this idea, invoking along the way everyone from Vincent van Gogh to Britney Spears. Even after this preamble, Pickover feels obliged to employ a SF scenario featuring a cast of hyperevolved extraterrestrials to add flair to his illumination of various stellar phenomena. Unfortunately, since he also uses these characters to relentlessly flaunt his erudition and grasp of biochemistry, it doesn't work. After plodding through endless digressions in the fictionally enhanced sessions, lay readers will likely yearn to relax with the more formal discourse that reprises each. These are indeed packed with facts and figures. (For example: A solar granule is about the size of the state of California.) The author’s failure to initially focus, however, means he must bob and weave through a capsule history of astronomy and the basic processes of the stellar/solar furnace before settling into what he really wants to write about: how we got here, where we’re going, and why. It is only in these latter sections, credibly merging points of scientific departure with informed speculation, that Pickover finally finds fourth gear. By projecting the fate of carbon-based life as we know it (or perhaps don’t yet) in terms of galactic evolution, he mostly avoids the stupefying strings and beads of the quantum geeks and gives us the vision of a palpable universe, marching forward to somewhere.
Finding God in the details is possible, but labor-intensive.