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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going is television-astrophysicist and author, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s attempt to do the seemingly impossible – explain the formation of the Universe and the creation of life, to science-virgins and novices like me. When asked to review this book, I wondered if the author, in his usual inimitable manner, familiar to StarTalk viewers, would be able to translate his down-to-earth television approach into the written word, despite the incredibly complex scientific concepts involved – the answer was a resounding, yes! Neil deGrasse Tyson covers a staggering array of concepts and scientific discoveries in this work, ranging from the history of scientific theory and the universe, philosophy, and science, right through our current scientific perception of the Big Bang and culminating in the possibilities for future discoveries, especially in the field of quantum physics. As well as looking at purely scientific discoveries that help us define our place in the Universe, the author also considers where we are currently at in our quest for knowledge, what still can be achieved, and ultimately how it may all end for us, billions of years from now. From atoms to quarks, to Leptons and Neutrinos; from DNA to RNA, to Natural Selection, to Synthetic Life, and Alien Life; from what existed before the Big Bang, through to the end of the Earth and even the possibility of Multiverses existing, this book covers it all and gives the reader an in-depth, yet understandable view of our world and our place in the Universe.
Despite my severe lack of a scientific bent as a child, I have always had a deep fascination with the cosmos, astronomy, and the idea of discovering our place in the Universe. I approached Cosmic Queries from the perspective of whether it would help me to grasp some of those difficult concepts of science and cosmology that I’d always struggled with. The answer was definitely yes. I won’t pretend that small parts of it still didn’t go right over the top of my head and leave me rolling my eyes in despair, but having now read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fantastic, easy-to-read and to grasp book, I have a much deeper and clearer understanding of how the Universe began, how life was born and ultimately where we are all headed, as a species and as a planet. One concept that will always stick with me from this amazing book is the idea that it is not what we don’t know that is important, but rather what we don’t know we don’t know that really matters. I liked the idea of humanity being on a continuum of understanding, that we have only just begun with a long way to still travel. I can honestly say I gained so much insight into things I’d struggled to come to grips with in the past about science in general but also about physics in particular.
The book is so readable, partly because of the plain English it is written in but also because of deGrasse Tyson’s trademark humor and ability to explain the unexplainable, in a language even I can understand, without seeming to talk down to me or to sound patronising. I particularly enjoyed the liberal sprinkling of Neil’s tweets throughout the book which served to break up the heavier technical content with wit and deprecating humor. The photographs and illustrations are absolutely superb and add immeasurably to the understanding of the text. I’m not sure if people still have such things as “coffee-table books” but regardless, I would be proud to display this magnificent book on any coffee table of mine. If you want to understand life, the Universe, and humanity, this is definitely a good place to start. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.