Sutter’s macabre humor and lucid science writing make this an entertaining read with mass appeal.




Sure, space travel sounds like fun—but there are countless ways to die out there. Comets, black holes, radiation, solar flares, neutron stars, supernovae—the universe is endlessly creative in devising phenomena that make leaving the comfortable atmosphere of Earth a risk. “Space is nasty,” writes astrophysicist Sutter, who adopts an informal, humorous persona in this book-length warning to aspiring astronauts: “Let’s sketch out the most dangerous parts of the solar system: The solar system. There, that was easy.” It’s a refreshing approach to a vast and complex subject, and the author doesn’t skimp on the science despite his non-serious tone. He walks readers through the physics of familiar dangers such as asteroids (“rocks that are looking for a target”) and unstable stars (“slumbering dragon[s], just waiting for the chance to awaken and begin breathing flame”) as well as more exotic elements—e.g., the “deadly, poisonous embrace” of the white dwarf or “the infinite density” of a black hole’s singularity. Sutter also covers what he calls “speculative threats,” which include “relics of the ancient universe” such as dark matter, cosmic strings, or the alluring possibility of aliens and wormholes. The author's analyses are deeply researched and enormously interesting, and he navigates the nuances of new science and evolving knowledge deftly, with nontechnical readers in mind. In the end, Sutter shifts slightly from his doomsday focus to reveal his serious enthusiasm for humankind’s future as intergalactic explorers. “I wrote these chapters to weed out the weak and unwilling. To scare some sense into them,” he writes. “For the remaining, the more foolish and daring and curious than usual, this book is a guide. It’s really an excuse to talk about all the wonderful physics happening in the cosmos….There is so much to learn, and we need to study it as closely and intimately as possible.” Sutter’s macabre humor and lucid science writing make this an entertaining read with mass appeal. (8 pages of color photos)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-438-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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


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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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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