A star exploded 160,000 years ago in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to our Milky Way. Two years ago the explosion's light reached earth, touching off a frenzy of astronomical research--this was, after all, the first supernova in our neighborhood since the invention of the telescope--and literature, most notably this solid popular treatment by astronomer and science-writer Goldsmith (Nemesis, 1985). The party began on February 23, 1987, with the chance discovery of a bright spot on a photographic plate in a mountaintop observatory in Chile. Within hours, swarms of astronomers around the world buzzed excitedly over their instruments: Bob Kirshner looked at the supernova's ultraviolet radiation; John Bahcall studied its neutrino output; Stan Woolsley made models to explain how the star exploded. Goldsmith, no master at characterization, fails to breathe much life into the men whose work he recounts. On the other hand, he balances his step-by-step narrative with a thankfully lucid exposition of the life cycle of stars, the physics of supernovae, the nature of light, the latest scoop on black holes, and much other relevant material. And he manages to convince us of the importance of his material, reminding us that ""we are living on the product, as the product, and by the product of stars that collapsed and then exploded."" Not the next best thing to being there (which is a bit like sunbathing under a billion hydrogen bombs). Rather, much better than being there--you get the fireworks and the analysis, and a pleasant read in the bargain.