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Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World Paperback – Bargain Price, August 25, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Plait, an astronomer and author of the popular Web site badastronomy.com, presents in loving detail the many, many ways the human race could die, from temperature extremes and poisonous atmosphere to asteroid impacts and supernovae explosions. Such a state of destruction existed some 65 million years ago, when a giant meteoroid struck Earth, sending up so much flaming debris that the whole planet caught fire and the dinosaurs were wiped out. Solar flare activity could bring on another Ice Age. Worse yet would be a gamma ray burster, a collapsed star whose radiation would be comparable to detonating a one-megaton nuclear bomb over every square mile of the planet. Plait discusses insatiable black holes, the death of the Sun and cannibal galaxies—including our own. Balancing his doomsday scenarios with enthusiastic and clear explanations of the science behind each, Plait offers a surprisingly educational and enjoyable astronomical horror show, including a table listing the extremely low odds of each event occurring. He gives readers a good scare, and then puts it in context. Illus. (Oct. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Fans of disaster-from-space movies such as Deep Impact or Armageddon, or of science-fiction novels like Lucifer’s Hammer, will definitely want to check out this lively yet also rather scary book by a noted astronomer and creator of the clever Web site badastronomy.com. The book is basically a catalogue of astronomical catastrophes that could wipe out life on earth: asteroids, comets, supernovae, black holes, aliens, even our friendly sun. According to Plait, it is virtually inevitable that something will happen, perhaps not in the not-so-distant future, to kill us all—don’t forget, it’s already happened once, 65 million years ago (remember the dinosaurs?), and there have been several recent near misses. The thing to do is stop worrying about inevitabilities and start planning for them: find ways, for example, to turn asteroids off course before they hit us. The book is extremely informative: Plait explains not only what can destroy the planet but also how it would happen. It’s a crash course in astronomy as well as a cautionary tale about the (possibly brief) future of our world. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143116045
  • ASIN: B0035G02BI
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,168,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harold A. Geller on October 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author reviews just about every disaster of global proportions that this old universe has in store for us. This includes everything from impacts with space rocks, solar magnetic storms, gamma-ray bursts, and the ultimate fate from the expansion of the universe itself. While these and others are serious scenarios, the author maintains a cosmic wit as is demonstrated even in his section subtitles. For example, there's "Sirius Danger?," "The Hole Truth," and "Sunrise Sunset" which is of course followed by "Swiftly Flow the Days Millennia Eons." By the way, if you wade through all of the cosmic disasters (speaking of which disaster itself is derived from the Greek for 'bad star') you'll find in the end that you have learned a bit about almost every topic that I teach in my introductory astronomy classes. Note that there are not any color photographs, but you can find lots of those online or in any standard astronomy text. I'm sure that by only including black and white images, it helped keep down the book cost, which makes this volume reachable to a wider audience. I highly recommend the book as an enjoyable weekend read which can lead you to think, learn, and perhaps realize that there can be lots gained from analyzing doom and gloom scenarios, especially if you apply scientific reasoning, which includes critical thinking.
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Format: Paperback
If you are looking at this review and considering buying Death from the Skies!, that probably means you have some interest in astronomy--if you do, I promise you will love this book. It is probably the most engaging non-fiction book I have ever read--I couldn't put it down. Phil Plait uses teaser stories at the beginning of each chapter, describing what it would be like to experience the various cosmic threats he covers. These are incredibly effective at grabbing your attention. Each time I read a new teaser, I couldn't stop myself from reading the rest of the chapter. In addition, the chapters, though they are packed with science, are very accessible and full of wit. Plait has a great sense of humor, and a gift for clear explanation. You do not need any kind of background in astro, physics, or math to get what he is talking about. I took a lot of astro in college so the concepts in the book were already familiar to me, which may have helped me to plow through the book quickly, but I don't think that sort of background is crucial. Anyway, I was an art history major, so it's not like I am some great expert on astronomy. If you are interested, you will be able to get what Plait is talking about.

This book has really reawakened my interest in the cosmos--I've started reading more astro and doing stuff like watching Jupiter and its moons as they change positions each night, stuff I hadn't done in ages. In addition, the book gave me a sense of perspective on Earth's place in the universe. There are some very thought-provoking ideas here, especially in the chapter about the end of the universe, which gets a little philosophical (in a good way).
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Format: Hardcover
The book is quite a roller coaster ride that takes you through all the many ways that the universe can kill us. Yet, the author, Dr. Philip Plait masterfully explains the many concepts with wit and humor rarely encountered in todays popular science books. Even those who have a decent background in astronomy can find facts and information that are absolutely novel to their thinking. Plait echoes the spirit of Sagan with an approach that allows any lay reader to understand the ridiculously difficult concepts that must be simplified but not dumbed down. Moreover, the science in the book represents our very latest understanding about the cosmos. One very important fact that must be mentioned from the book is that there are many ways for the universe to kill us, but the two that are most likely to disrupt our lives are fully preventable and mitigable. There is absolutely no excuse for our ignorance regarding the next near Earth asteroid, or major coronal mass ejection/giant solar flare from destroying all that we've worked so hard to accomplish. This is the ultimate and greatest message of the book.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone worried about looking out their bathroom window to discover the birds gone along with an overwhelming stillness should not read this book. If you notice all the trees around you suddenly begin to smoke, don't bother running away. If just after sunrise you notice rocks begin to melt, don't bother turning on the air conditioner.

If any of these possible scenarios do not alarm you and you are looking for a laugh-out-loud read about the different ways the world could end, then this book is for you. Astronomer and author, Dr. Philip Plait enlightens us with many more scenarios describing what would happen to our planet just before biblical catastrophes such as the Sun dying, asteroid and comet impacts, gamma-ray bursts, black holes, and more.

Expect to get educated as well with terms any layman can understand but appreciate: "The Sun is about 93 million miles away. If you could build a highway and drive there, it would take over 170 years. Even an airplane would take two decades to fly to the Sun if it could."

Plait's "Death from the Skies" is a blast (pun intended).
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