Cosmic Queries

StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going

Non-Fiction - Education
342 Pages
Reviewed on 02/17/2021
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Author Biography

Legendary astrophysicist NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON is the host of the popular podcast StarTalk Radio and Emmy award-winning National Geographic Channel shows StarTalk and Cosmos. He earned his BA in physics from Harvard and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia. The author of more than a dozen books, including the best-selling Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Tyson is the first Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

    Book Review

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.

Jack Magnus

Anyone who has ever experienced Neil deGrasse Tyson’s multi-platform StarTalk Series knows it features what the author describes as a blend of science, comedy, and pop culture. They will also, no doubt, be familiar with the Cosmic Queries segment of each show, wherein Tyson and his guests attempt to answer questions sent in by audience members. Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going addresses many of those questions, which, as the author aptly states, concern matters and mysteries that have been mulled over by thinkers since ancient times. Tyson takes his readers on a grand adventure that delves back into time and space when the universe was formed out of a random “collection of atoms” and then hurtles them forward into the distant future when everything ends. His approach is historical, giving readers a look at the science behind the study of our cosmos from the first efforts of the ancients to measure distances and determine our planet’s place in the universe through to present-day discoveries.

Much of what is contained within this brilliant work will be challenging. That said, any efforts made to get a good grasp of the material covered is well worth the effort. As a non-scientist, albeit a dedicated StarTalk listener, I was able to grasp most of the concepts presented therein with some effort and patience for my own slowness and lack of scientific background. As in the show, Tyson is comfortable sharing his world with his audience, and he is determined to keep every reader engaged and involved -- if you make the effort to do so. Cosmic Queries is a read that can be appreciated on a number of levels, from a basic and somewhat superficial understanding to a more comprehensive grasp of the mysteries of the universe and man’s quest to know it and himself. I have read it twice so far and plan to continue working to more fully understanding the more difficult subjects which I found so fascinating, such as dark energy, dark matter, and quantum mechanics. Tyson’s text is accompanied by numerous illustrations, many captured by the Hubble telescope, which works quite well with the storyline. He also includes a comprehensive list of sources and suggested further readings by chapter as well as an index.

I enjoy Tyson’s show StarTalk and expected that I would enjoy, and be challenged by, Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going. And yes, it met my expectations on both counts. While not always an easy or an effortless read, anyone who wants to learn about the universe could not find a better teacher and guide than Dr. Tyson. His love of the subject is infectious. I had a grand time reading this book. It’s most highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going is a work of non-fiction in the scientific and educational sub-genres, and was penned by renowned astrophysicist and planetary scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Written with the aid of physicist James Trefil, the work is intended for science enthusiasts and those who want answers to the big questions which space poses. This extensive and enjoyable work of accessible science builds on themes and discussions from the popular StarTalk podcast, asking us to examine our place in the universe against a wealth of new research and evidence from recent years. What results is a highly captivating work for both newcomers and self-confessed science nerds to dive into.

Author Neil deGrasse Tyson has crafted a superb work of engrossing non-fiction with co-author James Trefil, offering readers from all walks of life the chance to understand and engage with current, relevant data from the world of science on an accessible level. The work is gorgeously presented with engaging diagrams and photographs through the ages, and it takes readers through a well-organized chapter by chapter approach to the research of the past and how it leads us to the current extrapolations of scientific theory. I felt that the further reading section and index arrangement would be very useful to students and enthusiasts wishing to further their education after this truly solid grounding in the science of space. With its enthusiastic voice and clear explanatory narrative, no-one could walk away from this book without being both educated and inspired. Overall, I would highly recommend Cosmic Queries to fans of the existing StarTalk podcast, newcomers with curiosity about the vastness of space and the universe, and science fans everywhere.

Susan Sewell

Join world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and award-winning physicist James Trefil as they uncover the mysteries of the universe in their compelling book, Cosmic Queries: StarTalk's Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going. Incorporating the sciences of physics, quantum physics, cosmology, and geology, the authors provide an in-depth view of the cosmos. Traversing the first recorded astronomical inventions and findings to present-day advancements and explorations, discover how scientists currently comprehend and understand our universe and how it operates. Reviewing the perceptions the ancient astrologers had of the stars and planets, the book travels from antiquity to the current era, analyzing how science and technology uncovered the vastness of the universe. The extraordinary history of the cosmos and its astrological inhabitants are examined from the explosion of the big bang to hypothetical world-ending scenarios.

Partnering with National Geographic, StarTalk Radio host Neil deGrasse Tyson joins James Trefil for a second literary leap into our cosmos in the brilliant book, Cosmic Queries. Author Neil deGrasse Tyson once again delivers an educational and enlightening experience perfect for both young adult and adult readers. Including extraordinary photos, illustrations, historical references, and a comprehensive index, the book is an excellent source for those intrigued by the mysteries surrounding the origin and development of the universe. Discussing some of humanity's most driving questions about where we came from and how life on earth began, this book blends cutting-edge science with rich history. Impeccably designed and formatted, the contents are eye-catching as well as informative, promising to enthrall science nerds, stargazers, and astronomy enthusiasts alike.

Steven Robson

Cosmic Queries by Neil deGrasse Tyson with James Trefil is designed to sate anyone with curiosity burning in their thoughts; a vast community of souls represented by those who have, at some time, looked up at the sky at night in wonder. Being a collaboration between two internationally renowned scientists, and National Geographic, Cosmic Queries succeeds wonderfully in providing quality content that matches its highly credentialed creators. The big questions that populate our perceptions about what life is, where it came from, where it exists in the Universe, how it all started and how it may end, and how we know what we know are all covered, supported by real science that isn’t afraid to face the gaps in our knowledge. Compiled in language unburdened by technical complexity, this book also contains a wealth of supporting material: stunning photographs taken in both the micro and macro Universe, graphical representations, highlighted amazing factual extracts, and individual commentary, to name a few. If there is one book everyone should read, Cosmic Queries is it: period.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and James Trefil have created in Cosmic Queries the book I have been waiting for. This is a work of wonder, filled with information that will shock your senses and give you a perspective on life that is both awe-inspiring and most humbling, in consideration of the scale of our existence. By way of example, I will provide one extract: 600,000,000 TONS. The Sun converts this much hydrogen into helium every second. No one can fully grasp any measured understanding of what this involves, given this home star has been burning for just over 4.5 billion years. It is this kind of amazing realization, gleaned from each page turned, that drives you to the end credits in an ever-increasing lust for the answers you seek. As a regular StarTalk viewer, I often wished I had at hand a book that could provide greater insight into some of the issues discussed; this is that book, and I know it will go big. I intend to add it to my collection. This is an incredible book and all who were involved should be very proud.