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Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries Paperback – November 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What would it feel like if your spaceship were to venture too close to the black hole lurking at the center of the Milky Way? According to astrophysicist Tyson, director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium, size does matter when it comes to black holes, although the chances of your surviving the encounter aren't good in any case. Tyson takes readers on an exciting journey from Earth's hot springs, where extremophiles flourish in hellish conditions, to the frozen, desolate stretches of the Oort Cloud and the universe's farthest reaches, in both space and time. Tyson doesn't restrict his musings to astrophysics, but wanders into related fields like relativity and particle physics, which he explains just as clearly as he does Lagrangian points, where we someday may park interplanetary filling stations. He tackles popular myths (is the sun yellow?) and takes movie directors—most notably James Cameron—to task for spectacular goofs. In the last section the author gives his take on the hot subject of intelligent design. Readers of Natural History magazine will be familiar with many of the 42 essays collected here, while newcomers will profit from Tyson's witty and entertaining description of being pulled apart atom by atom into a black hole, and other, closer-to-earth, and cheerier, topics. 9 illus. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Whenever astronomy intrudes on the news, interviewers flock to the telegenic Tyson for an explanation. The high-profile astrophysicist is also an essayist for Natural History, the American Museum of Natural History's monthly that is the source for this volume. His pieces are organized under whimsical banners such as "All the ways the cosmos wants to kill us," and Tyson's style will connect with general readers who are interested in the form the apocalypse will take. Scientists know that in a few billion years, an expanding sun will vaporize the earth, provided it's not been previously destroyed by a rogue black hole. Besides regaling spooky stories, the selections deploy movies as an astronomy popularizer, with Tyson critiquing the accuracy of the sky depicted in various scenes. Elsewhere, topics in the history of astronomy and physics fall into two categories: essays about the discovery of physical laws, and about cosmic objects such as galactic gas clouds and quasars. Whatever readers' scientific tastes, something in Tyson's wide-ranging collection will sate them. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (November 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393330168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393330168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, a monthly columnist for Natural History, and an award-winning author. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a wonderful writer.
Amazon Customer
The book is fairly easy to read, it does not require a scientific background to understand the concepts and subjects that it explains.
Great read, I recommend it for anyone with an interest in science/astronomy.
Nick Beagle

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

191 of 197 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on February 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
An astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, where he serves at its world-famous Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson has written a popular account of the evolution of the universe: its past, present, and future--from its beginning with a big bang to its ending with a whimper.

In Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, Tyson sees the universe "not as a collection of objects, theories, and phenomena, but as a vast stage of actors driven by intricate twists of story line and plot."

Each of the book's 42 chapters first appeared, in one form or another, on the pages of Natural History magazine under the heading "Universe" and span the 11-year period of 1995 through 2005. In spite of modest editing of the essays, there remains some overlapping and repetition of information.

Tyson divides his work into seven sections: "The Nature of Knowledge," "The Knowledge of Nature," "Ways and Means of Nature," "The Meaning of Life," "When the Universe Turns Bad," "Science and Culture," and "Science and God."

He discusses, respectively, the challenges of knowing what is knowable in the universe, the challenges of discovering the contents of the cosmos, the challenges and triumphs of knowing how we got here, all the ways the cosmos wants to kill us, the ruffled interface between cosmic discovery and the public's reaction to it, and when ways of knowing collide.

Tyson introduces a diverse company of actors who perform on the universal stage: galaxies, solar systems, stars, quasars, black holes, supernovas, planets, moons, comets, asteroids and meteorites. These cosmic thespians emerge as a strange, bizarre, mind-boggling, awesome and dangerous cast of characters.
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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Get out your crayons. Make a Sun in the sky. If it is like every Sun you have colored since you were a kid, it is a happy yellow ball. "And I don't care what else anyone has ever told you, the Sun is white, not yellow," writes astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in _Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries_ (Norton). "If the sun were yellow, like a yellow lightbulb, then white stuff such as snow would reflect this light and appear yellow - a snow condition confirmed to happen only near fire hydrants." How do we keep getting this wrong? Why do people think there is no gravity in space, or that what goes up must come down? How come total solar eclipses seem rare, but actually happen every couple of years? And especially important, how do we obtain those data to show us that these assumptions are wrong? Furthermore, what does happen when you step into a black hole, or into a hole that goes clean through the center of the Earth? What is going to happen when the Andromeda galaxy hits our own Milky Way? ("Gas clouds would slam into each other; stars would be cast hither and yon.. our planet could get flung out of the solar system... That would be bad.") And it is going to happen, but a couple of billion years before that happens, the Sun will explode and die and vaporize all the contents of the Earth. But as Tyson observes, "I'd say we have more pressing issues of survival before us."

Tyson's book consists of chapters that appeared as columns in _Natural History_ magazine. There is death and destruction all through it, and yet he writes with buoyant optimism and humor, making even the strangest findings of astrophysics accessible.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Lynds on February 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First of all I am not a scientist, but if all science teachers had the wit, confidence and attitude of Mr. Tyson, then we all (non-scientists) would have probably paid more attention in class. I could not put the book down and although I thought it dragged just a little bit in the middle (the re-hashing of the atomic make up and eventual atomic breakdown of stars), the repetetive nature of some of his information was excellent in terms of helping the layperson to retain the information.

The amount of subject matter explained in this book is pretty heavy for a non-scientist, yet Mr. Tyson is able to get the points and information across in witty and entertaining way. I did feel that I learned a lot from reading this, from him talking about the smallest of structures such as antimatter, positrons, atoms, etc. to him explaining the largest of structurs and how they work (the universe). Theories on the Big Bang are explained as is the theories and probabilities of other life in the universe. What it would be like to be sucked into a black hole is described as is what it will happen when our Sun will eventually expand, destroying Earth, then die. How about what will happen when our solar system collides with our closest neighboring solar system, the Andromeda Galaxy? It is explained. Mr. Tyson has a talent for making the end of the universe, the eventual extinction of human-kind and our own insignificance sound as entertaining as a movie drama, and he does it with enthusiasm.
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