Neil Degrasse Tyson
W W Norton & Company
2017 | 224pp | £14.99
ISBN 9780393609394

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Space is big. And complicated. And many of us are just too busy to get our heads around it. Fortunately for us, Neil Degrasse Tyson has created a pocket-sized guide to understanding the universe. In Astrophysics for people in a hurry he explains the wonders of space, condensed into only 224 pages. Next time someone asks you about the formation of the universe at a dinner party or strikes up a conversation about exoplanets on the tube you will be ready to wow them with your astronomical knowledge.

Degrasse Tyson has a talent for making very complicated concepts seem simple, and the amount of content squeezed into one short volume is impressive. He certainly knows his stuff. It takes no time at all to romp through a chapter as the book is written with humour and his descriptions verge on the poetic.

The book starts in the obvious place – with the formation of the universe – but moves onto flashy ideas of dark energy and dark matter before looping back to the far more familiar concepts of splitting light with a prism and the electromagnetic spectrum we know and love. I found that when I was squeezing chapters into lunch breaks and bus rides (a reading style for busy people suggested by the blurb) I didn’t feel a very strong sense of a continued narrative between chapters and it felt a little disjointed.

The book isn’t all physics – there’s a rather nice chapter on astrochemistry that describes how the elements are created, and where they are found in the solar system. But there’s also a cheap dig about people not liking chemicals because, to paraphrase, chemists ‘give chemicals scary names’. Apparently even the biggest names in science communication aren’t above a bit of name calling!

Overall, this book is an enjoyable way to condense some big space ideas in a very small space of time, but may lose a reader without a reasonable amount of background knowledge on the subject. If you already like space or Degrasse Tyson, you will like this book.