Although lucid and generously illustrated, this should not be anyone's first book on the universe. Wheeler’s descriptions...

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COSMIC CATASTROPHES

SUPERNOVAE, GAMMA-RAY BURSTS, AND ADVENTURES IN HYPERSPACE

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.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-521-65195-6

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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