Cool, classy, articulate, and brilliant--rarely do all of those adjectives apply at once to an astrophysicist. But Neil de Grasse Tyson is no ordinary scientist; as the director of New York City's Hayden planetarium, his job is to inspire the public with the beauty and grandeur of the universe, just as he was inspired there in his youth. The Sky Is Not the Limit
is his memoir of the events leading from his birth to his acceptance of his dream job and beyond, and is a marvelously entertaining look at one man's pursuit of his life's calling. Tyson emphasizes the nurturing roles played by his parents, friends, and teachers, in contrast to the sometimes well-meaning but always disappointing discouragement he experienced from all sides in his quest for his Ph.D.
Of course, it's still shamefully difficult for a black American scientist to merit the same quality of attention as his or her peers, and Tyson's insights into the subtle but still-pervasive racism in academia are enlightening. His description of his own shock at seeing himself on television--a black man sought as an expert on something other than being black--is powerfully moving. But, as with his other books, like the gorgeous One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos, the quest for knowledge is more important than the obstacles, and his spirit, determination, and sense of humor prove that the sky really isn't the limit. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Tyson (see One Universe, reviewed above) directs the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. His pleasant, digressive memoir explains how he got there, what it's like to be a famous astronomer and what he thinks of his work. At first it's a story about how science education can go right. We learn that Tyson, who is African-American, grew up among tall buildings in the Bronx--but his is not a story of triumph over grinding poverty. Young Tyson got a break from the city when his father found a one-year lectureship at Harvard, and as for the electricity required to run one of his first telescopes, "my dentist... happened to live on the nineteenth floor." Tyson's later chapters offer memories, anecdotes and musings on astrophysics, education, politics, popular culture and even wrestling, in which Tyson competed until grad school. Tyson explains how his wrestling skills and knowledge of physics helped him end an Italian traffic jam by lifting a parked car, and how he tried to buy a meteorite but lost an auction to Steven Spielberg. In one chapter, Hollywood's science mistakes raise Tyson's ire (the film Titanic got its night sky all wrong); in the next, he discusses getting stopped by police for "Driving While Black." With sentences like "The universe poured down from the sky and flowed into my body," Tyson may not be his discipline's best prose stylist; neither his essays nor his life match the unpredictable charm of Richard Feynman's. But he comes off very likably, and presents physics with ease and clarity. It's easy to imagine his memoir inspiring young future astrophysicists--and inspiring grownups to help them out. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.