Having taught the popular course Astronomy Bizarre at the University of Texas for 25 years, Wheeler has turned it into a popular book.
Wheeler tells the story of the creation of the universe from the Big Bang onward, not from the solar system outward—the traditional way of explaining astronomy to a lay audience. In fact, you'll find no solar system at all in this book: no planets, moons, comets, or asteroids. The sun only makes an appearance because it's a star. Wheeler concentrates on stars: how they are born, why they shine, the paths they follow as they mature, age, and die. It turns out that few stars age quietly. Mostly, they blow up. Some end with a single spectacular explosion releasing the light of a billion stars—a supernova. Others blow up more modestly but repeatedly, each blast labeled with its astronomic pyrotechnic title: nova, flare, burst, pulsar, repeater. The author reveals that a dying star leaves behind another star, smaller and more bizarre. Some end as a tiny, massive white dwarf, others as a tinier, more massive neutron star, the most bizarre of all shrink to a black hole, so massive even light cannot escape and so tiny no one knows if it occupies any space at all. Stellar astronomy is weird and rapidly getting more so as data pour in from satellite observatories and new high-tech instruments on the ground. Wheeler explains it all for the intelligent reader without a technical background.
Although lucid and generously illustrated, this should not be anyone's first book on the universe. Wheeler’s descriptions are accessible, but the sheer volume of new, strange information will overwhelm anyone coming to astronomy for the first time. Get your feet wet with a simpler introduction such as Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time or Timothy Ferris's Coming of Age in the Milky Way. Then read this.