"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Friday, July 26, 2013

Becoming Acquainted with an Urban Astrophysicist

The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban AstrophysicistThe Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hopefully, likely, someday there will be a comprehensive biography of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. No rush though. With several published works, and many videos and audio recordings available for free online, the in-process life of Dr. Tyson is quite accessible. And for those of us who want the equivalent of an extended personal conversation, there is The Sky Is Not the Limit. Published in 2004, this book is far from comprehensive. Still, it is a wonderful survey of the life of the man People magazine hypothesized to be the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive.

I was hoping for a memoir that focused mainly on relating life events. However, The Sky Is Not the Limit spends a great deal of ink engaging in scientific discussion. In such cases, a briefly recounted memory serves as a springboard to academic discourse. All the material is valuable, but the selling point of memoir is undercut somewhat as a result. A minor criticism, but this book wants for a greater abundance of revealing anecdotes.

At any rate, Dr. Tyson's exciting and candid voice comes through loud and clear. The anecdotes he does share run the gamut from triumph, to tragedy, with humor and surprise included. In terms of offering both vivid personal history and profound reflection, the sections on 9/11 and racism are absorbing. Tyson provides some of his most insightful and bittersweet assessments when recounting his memory of the Apollo 11 moonlanding.

For fans of Neil deGrasse Tyson, this book is of course a must read. For those shopping for a proper introduction to Tyson's scientific knowledge, and his entertaining and accessible style of sharing it, consider trying Death by Black Hole or the more recent Space Chronicles .

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