Carl Sagan “Billions and Billions” Book Review.

Carl Sagan “Billions and Billions” Book Review

This is a review of the book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan. The final book of a modern-day astronomy legend. If you want to get a review of this book, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s jump right in! “Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium” by Carl Sagan Title: Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Author: Carl Sagan Subject(s): Astronomy, Physics, Politics Skill-level: Intermediate Published: 1997, Ballantine Publishing Group Reason to read: The final book of a prolific modern-day astronomy legend. “Billions and Billions” Review Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium was the final book of Sagan’s sensational career and life.  In light of this and the soon-to-be new millennium, he broaches some of the most enigmatic and sensitive questions regarding our universe. In typical Sagan fashion, the early sections explore the vastness of mathematics, the cosmos, and beyond in an almost poetic essay format.  Whereas, later sections tackle our potential future fates and how mankind should- and has been approaching such dilemmas.  Sagan dissects politics, global warming, and more in a philosophical plea, imploring us to course-correct our own cosmic destiny. Heartfelt Retrospect No doubt, Carl Sagan goes down as one of the great modern wordsmiths. His phrasing, stunning word choices, and sensitivity breathed a gentle Robert-Frost-like charisma into science.  But, Billions and Billions took these qualities to new heights. In fact, from page one, aware of his own time running out, Sagan goes into touching retrospect on his life and career. Brilliantly, the book begins by revealing his lack of ever using the phrase that would be forever associated with him, “billions and billions.”  Instead, the phrase spawned from Johnny Carson’s playful impersonations of Sagan in his dozens of late-night guest appearances. Sagan’s emotional entrance gives even first-time Sagan readers a sad yet comforting feeling that they have known him personally their entire lives.  In fact, for lack of a better term, the opening chapter almost serves as a science-riddled deathbed speech. A Refreshing Look at Global Warming Today, climate change is everywhere. However, somewhere along the way, it became more of a political and social device than mere scientific concern.  Too often, notable personalities use global warming as a scare tactic and blaming tool. Whereas Sagan reveals his deep outlook on the subject in a genuine plea.  Actually, it almost feels as though it was a speech originally intended for a congressional hearing.  Sagan paints beautiful yet frightening word pictures of how global warming and ozone depletion happen, both by mankind and natural universal forces. Then, There Was Politics Suddenly, Billions and Billions takes a jagged turn for the later sections.  Ultimately, these sections prevented a five-star rating, personally. Indeed, pivoting 180 degrees from his aforementioned views on climate change (see above), Sagan’s outlook turns into a rather grim, divisive political rant.  Using borderline ill-will, Billions and Billions casts all blame virtually on both government and big industry, particularly Ronald Regan and DuPont.  In fact, it almost felt as though he suddenly dug up previous frustrations, laying them out boldly on the table one final time. Personally, politics and finger-pointing have found their way into climate change far too often. While most of us do have one opinion or another on these matters, I found its blatant use a bit below Carl’s typical premium standard of writing.  Above all, his fierce blame of modern-day problems on previous decades, political figures, and companies was all but unnecessary. Overall, the jarring contrast between the poetic beginning and bitter end impeded Billions and Billions. But, ultimately, it felt that taking such a turn was the very thing that prevented this final work from being Sagan’s masterpiece. Political ranting aside, Billions and Billions remains a book worthy of any astronomical bookshelf.  While I would strongly promote previous Sagan works over Billions and Billions, it still holds droves of worthwhile reading.  After all, it is the final work of a man who practically built mainstream astronomy. About Carl Sagan What can we say about Carl Sagan that has not already been said?  The man impacted science from general astronomy all the way through astrobiology and spaceflight.  Particularly, Sagan was the most well-known scientist throughout the 1970s and 1980s.  Certainly, he paved the way for future popular astronomers like Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Above all, Sagan successfully popularized astronomy and physics, primarily through his long-lasting television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, later resumed by protege Degrasse Tyson.  From late-night talk shows to congressional hearings, Carl Sagan embodied modern popular science and still serves as a permanent icon.

Carl Sagan “Billions and Billions” Book Review.

Alan Lightman “The Accidental Universe” Book Review

This is a review of the book The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman. The book’s poetic/philosophical voice will give you a unique outlook on the universe. If you want to get a review of this book, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dig right in! “The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew” by Alan Lightman Title: The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew  Author: Alan Lightman Subject(s): Astronomy, Physics, Cosmology, Anthropology, Psychology Skill-level: Intermediate Published: November 7, 2013, Pantheon Reason to read: Lightman’s poetic/philosophical voice will give you a unique outlook on the universe. The Accidental Universe Review The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew is similar to many astrophysics and cosmology books, exploring the universe’s evolution.  Yet, Lightman peers into the universe from such unique and fascinating vantage points. From spirituality to symmetry to size, you explore the unfathomable, massive, and even shocking aspects of our known universe and beyond.  Plus, in typical Lightman fashion, each section is caked in anthropological and philosophical flavors. Compared to typical attributes, Accidental Universe takes you on a mental journey through our cosmos in a refreshing way, asking some of life’s most sought-after questions. Space Philosophy Alan Lightman’s passion for both art and science (see bio below) never seize to paint his work unique.  After all, given the entire universe as a topic, abstract discussions and open-ended points are no simple task. Yet, Lightman sticks the landing. This is his wheelhouse. Taking concepts like universal symmetry and weaving in human kind’s desire for it is a brilliant and refreshing approach.  Not to mention, Lightman often uses wonderful contrast, such as our devious desire for asymmetry. Great Debate. Bad Arena. As a whole, religion is a sensitive social topic. Furthermore, religion versus science is a wildly debated and highly charged match-up.  Frankly, viewpoints aside, I found this topic to be unnecessary, especially as its own devoted section. However, I refuse to entirely hold Lightman accountable for two reasons.  Firstly, more or less, this book is a composite, assembled from individual essays.  Actually, as a standalone book, essay, or other literary work, this topic is prime.  Personally, it struck me as an awkward outlier among the book’s other subjects.  Second, Lightman, of course, offers generous banter towards both sides of this debate.  As a result, this section overall remains rather fair.  Yet, he also blatantly exclaims his particular views, thus, ultimately cheapening his generosities toward the opposing side.  Yet, I am technically committing the same crimes in this very paragraph. Brevity In literature, brevity is not easily achieved. Certainly, scientific writing is far from an exception.  In fact, attempting to explain subjects that no human totally understands often winds up requiring hundreds of pages. Now, given the right subject, author, book, and more, I never mind a sizeable read.  But, I admire the brevity of Alan Lightman. Similar to his refreshing topical selections, the man carries such potent confidence in his work.  Sticking iron-clad to his points, leaving out the extraneous, Lightman drives this book from start to finish.  Again, for such a vast topic, his laser-focused approach is quite refreshing and admirable. Perhaps this is yet another benefit of a book compiled from individual essays. Any avid science enthusiast will benefit from reading The Accidental Universe.  A pioneer in the field, Alan Lightman provides a one-of-a-kind reading experience full of odd but exceptional mashups like cosmology, philosophy, and psychology.  Plus, his wonderful precision makes this a rather quick, enjoyable read. Bookshelf-worthy, no doubt. About Alan Lightman Tennessee-born physicist and author Alan Lightman held a deep fascination for both science and art from a young age. Those familiar with Lightman’s work can agree that his philosophical, quasi-poetic approach to explaining sciences demonstrates this flawlessly. During the 1970s and 80s, Lightman received a degree in physics from Princeton, his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from California Institute of Technology, and would be appointed to professor of science and writing and senior lecturer at renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Following years would only see further success for Lightman, cofounding MIT’s graduate science writing program and completely overhauling the university’s standards for communication. Scientifically, Lightman earned his stripes through contributions for astrophysical extremes.  Among them are relativistic gravitational theory, accretion disk behaviors, extreme temperatures, densities, etc. Alan Lightman’s prolific writing career, best known for a national bestseller, Einstein’s Dream, has spanned several decades, continuing through the modern-day.  Making national literary waves as runner-up for 1994 PEN New England/Boston Globe Award, 1998 NPR “Talk of the Nation” book club selection, and more, Lightman’s career has been both rich, unique, and enduring.

Brian Greene "The Fabric of the Cosmos" Book Review.

Brian Greene “The Fabric of the Cosmos” Book Review

This is a review of the book The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene. This book takes on the most complex topics concerning space and makes them accessible to everyone. If you want to get a review of this book, then you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading! “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality” by Brian Greene  Title: The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality Author: Brian Greene Subject(s): Astronomy, Physics, Cosmology, Quantum, History Skill level: Advanced Published: February 8, 2005, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group Reasons to read: A sincere winner for taking on space’s most complex topics and making them available to everyone. “The Fabric of the Cosmos” Review Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality guides the reader through some of science’s most ambitious and complex topics.  Brian Greene seeks answers to the questions we all ask.  What is space?  Is time real?  What’s space made of? Your journey will take you deep into some of the universe’s darkest, most mysterious realms.  You will uncover things about your own consciousness that are sure to shock you.  Best of all, there exists no greater tour guide than Brian Greene. Greene takes you throughout space and history to unravel and explore astonishing subjects like string theory, time, quantum teleportation, time travel, and more.  Not to mention, each massive topic is filled to the brim with helpful examples and explanations. Upon finishing The Fabric of the Cosmos, your outlook on space, time, and everything it is made will never be the same again.  It becomes painfully clear why this book has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list and virtually any scientific “must-read” lists. Deep, Deep Diving So many books hover over a topic, cross that critical threshold, and it suddenly it becomes blatantly obvious that you have become disengaged and uninterested. Particularly, scientific books are as guilty as any genre of this crime. Not to mention, you may decide to skip chapters. As a result, losing valuable information and plot material.  Worst of all, you may find that you’ve lost interest in the remainder of the book in general. Heaven forbid this lost interest occurs anywhere near the book’s beginning! Brian Greene to the rescue. Greene brilliantly drives a topic home repeatedly yet manages to keep it fascinating.  Plus, with his incredibly deep and passionate knowledge, bringing complex topics down to the layman is no easy task. In particular, the book’s consistent focus on Einstein’s famous Theory of General Relativity struck me as brilliant.  Overall, Einstein’s original theory is truly brilliant.  As such, truly understand the beautiful nuances of the theory tends to prove very difficult.  However, Greene continues to showcase Relativity’s concepts in a variety of different ways, examples, settings, and more.  Basically, it’s near impossible to read this book and not at least have a solid working knowledge of General Relativity. Impressive! Quantum Mechanics For Joe Public It doesn’t get much better than quantum for those interested in cutting-edge, fascinating, and frankly baffling scientific concepts.  But, being unknown and elusive by nature makes it astoundingly hard to explain. Let alone explain in mere chapters or sections. An area where Greene excels is his gentle and accessible explanations.  Naturally, in doing so successfully, he spares fine intimate details.  However, he beautifully hand-picks what could and should be omitted as not to overwhelm his reader. Admittedly, some topics may still require a second glance or refreshment.  But, another powerful strength of this book is its culminating ability to reference several previous chapters and concepts.  Being that they all build upon one another, this provides a wonderful journey of a read. Something New For Everyone Often, another pitfall of scientific reading is that it may not offer the new information you were seeking.  For instance, when you become deeply indulged in a subject, you often find yourself reading redundant explanations, hoping to find small bits of new information. Yet another specialty of Greene is to enrich even widely-known subject matter with fresh, new, and fascinating tidbits.  Even things we experience with our own senses in daily life, like gravity, become loaded with “I didn’t know that!” moments in nearly every paragraph. Knowing Brian Greene is a professor makes it hard to imagine that each class is not truly entertaining and wildly impactful. The Confusing Strings of the Universe A hefty portion of the book’s later half is devoted to string theory.  For those unaware, string theory is a very progressive and modern theory to the fundamentals of spacetime and matter itself.  Essentially, the fields and matter in which we all live and die to result from specific waves frequency of cosmic strings. Like a cosmic melody being played. However, as you may guess, the theory’s intricacies are both not fully understood and immensely complicated. Therefore, I could never discredit anyone for not making each paragraph and word crystal-clear.  Not to mention, by trade, Greene is a devout string theorist. All in all, while this part of the book is highly interesting and fairly crucial to his work, it stuck out a bit.  I only say “stuck out” in the sense that it was considerably more difficult to digest.  Then again, string theory is new and foreign mostly to me. A more avid reader may breeze through this section. About Brian Greene Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York. He is also currently serving as director of Columbia’s Center for Theoretical Physics.  Particularly, Greene is world-renown for his passion and contributions to the field of superstring theory. Aside from a collegiate career, Green is also a highly successful author, boasting multiple New York Times Best Seller books.  Accurately, the Washington Post once deemed Greene “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.” Greene has garnered a wealth of public notoriety as well. Radio time, interviews, magazine articles, television, and movie appearances.  Greene has officially paved his way into the elite “science popularizers,” with the likes …

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"Origins" by Neil deGrasse Tyson Book Review.

Neil deGrasse Tyson “Origins” Book Review

This is a review of the book Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil deGrasse. This book covers the entire universe in a few hundred pages. If you want to get a review of this book, then you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading! “Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution” by Neil deGrasse Title: Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson / Donald Goldsmith Subject(s): Astronomy, Physics, Cosmology, Anthropology Skill level: Advanced Published: September 2, 2014, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. Reasons to read: An interesting attempt to cover the entire universe in a few hundred pages. “Origins” Review Tyson and astronomy writer Donald Goldsmith tackle the king of all subjects: our universe. Like most cosmology reads, Tyson and Goldsmith set out on a voyage to explore our universe’s past, present, and future.  You encounter seemingly everything on your journey, from the big bang to black holes, galaxies, to exoplanets. Furthermore, your explorations will reveal and dive into some of today’s most fascinating and yet unsolved mysteries in space.  Sparing no detail, Tyson and Goldsmith have literally jammed 14 billion years into a single 300-page read. Tyson’s Delivery Firstly, as any Carl Sagan fan will attest, Neil deGrasse Tyson has all but officially taken the baton as this generation’s face of pop-sci. As a result, Tyson’s Sagan-like delivery paints some of the most vivid explanations of our universe.  Almost reminiscent of the more philosophical hybrid physicists of ancient Greece. Especially given that cosmology is completely mind-bending to even the most brilliant minds, clear-cut and digestible explanations are crucial.  Frankly, most of us, myself included, have cracked open a new book, only to have our thrills soon shattered by a lack of understanding. Certainly, this is a common risk in astronomy and physics literature. However, I will end this by acknowledging that physicists and works pull this off much more successfully than Tyson. For instance, if you read our review on Brian Greene’s “Fabric of the Cosmos,” you will understand. Be Prepared Despite Tyson’s notable wordsmith capabilities (see the previous section), astronomy subjects even he or Sagan can completely simplify. After all, were that the case, even children would have a rather thorough understanding of our universe, no? That said, some sections and chapters of Origins became drastically harder to stay engaged with.  However, this was not a lack of great writing and subject matter. It simply reflects the overwhelming nature of deep space sciences.  Personally, I would have enjoyed these sections being more slightly broken up or modified to give a slightly higher view. Origins begins similar to an episode of Cosmos, in which even non-science-loving folks can quickly adapt and enjoy.  Yet, midway, it suddenly begins reading much more like Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. In other words, it takes a very rigid turn from rather basic to quite advanced reading. Cardinal Rules, Broken Firstly, this is, and will always be, subjective observation of pure opinion. Then again, this is a review, after all. But Tyson, like so many other wonderful science authors, repeatedly breaks a pop-sci golden rule throughout Origins. Divine creation versus evolution.  Again, I acknowledge that this is in the eye of the beholder. However, truthfully, I make this observation not based on religious biases. Rather, the mere fact that such subjects are avoidable. This is the analog of approaching a complete stranger and unsolicitedly showering them in your political opinions to the literary world.  I suppose the subject could theoretically be gently delivered. Although, I still strongly believe it can be avoided entirely, yet easily inferred.  Once again, I will point out Brian Greene’s extraordinary ability to do so. While not a great deal to everyone, I found this to make Tyson come across as highly arrogant and not tactfully or diplomatically, as he is one to do. Forward-Thinking  For any science reader similar to me, you enjoy the thrill of the unknown. Indeed, my love of astronomy stems primarily from my realization that I will simply never fully understand it. Tyson and Goldsmith satisfy this itch beautifully during the latter half of their book. Then, from advances in exoplanet spotting to possibilities of life’s beginnings and ends, the book becomes downright baffling. Infamously, Tyson can create mystifying excitement better than most in modern physics. Origins is no slouch when it comes to such thrills. Despite being a surprisingly challenging read, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution deserves a spot on even beginning astronomers’ bookshelves. About Neil DeGrasse Tyson Born in the Bronx, New York, Neil deGrasse Tyson was the second of three children.  At age nine, Tyson fell head over heels for astronomy while visiting New York’s Hayden Planetarium.  Ultimately, he would graduate from Bronx High School of Science, go on to receive a bachelor of physics from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University. Tyson has lived a fruitful career that seemed to expand as rapidly as the very universe he so adores.  From being appointed to head space future committees at the White House to hosting a litany of television documentaries and series, like Nova’s Origins, Tyson is ubiquitous in modern science. Perhaps, most notably, in 2014, Tyson revived childhood idol Carl Sagan’s popular Cosmos: A Personal Voyage television series under the updated moniker Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.  Filling the legendary shoes, Tyson has since picked up the astronomy baton since Sagan’s passing in the late 1990s. Indeed, Tyson serves as arguably the most famous pop-science advocate, a highly successful author, television personality, and more.  Most serendipitously, Tyson was appointed Director of Hayden Planetarium in 1996, the very place in which he first found his passion for the universe. In fact, he remains director to this very day.

Christophe Galfard "The Universe in Your Hand" Review.

Christophe Galfard “The Universe in Your Hand” Review

This is a review of the book The Universe in Your Hand – A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond by Christophe Galfard. This book gives you an overview of the entire universe. If you want a review of this book, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s jump right in! “The Universe in Your Hand – A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond” by Christophe Galfard Title: The Universe in Your Hand – A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond Author: Christophe Galfard Subject(s): Astronomy, Physics, Cosmology Skill level: Intermediate Published: August 27, 2015, Pan MacMillan Reasons to read: No greater or more unique overview of the entire universe and cosmology. “The Universe in Your Hand” Review The Universe in Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond attempts precisely what the book’s title states.  Through a series of hypothetical situations, readers go on a mental journey of our cosmos through the eyes and mind of an unnamed main character. Beginning with local and more familiar subject matters, you explore our solar system, planets, and Sun.  Gradually, you venture further out into the deep cosmos, experiencing other stars, distant galaxies, and beyond. Ultimately, your journey culminates in deep explorations of great scientific mysteries like black holes, time, dark matter and energy, and even the bazaar submicroscopic quantum world. Actual Simple Explanations Too often, astronomy books take on wildly fascinating topics, only to fall short through poor explanation, too much explanation, or not enough at all.  Alternatively, despite his extensive star-studded career and vast knowledge of astrophysics, Christophe Galfard truly shines in this regard. Particularly, Galfard’s simplified synopses of all but unknown subjects like dark matter, dark energy, the very early universe, and quantum mechanics are surprisingly easy to digest.  Not to mention, he leaves you with a genuine understanding of things.  He does not simply overload you with knowledge to the point of needing an advanced physics degree. Brilliant Comparisons Galfard’s ability to bring complex subjects down to Earth through real-world comparisons and situations makes this book a home run for most ages and skill levels. Above all, quantum mechanics.  After all, even legendary theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”  Yet, Galfard tees it up for even novices to at least comprehend and explore one of modern science’s most fascinating worlds.  Most authors try to prevent one from enjoying or even finishing a book on such a topic. Using common, everyday items that anyone can easily relate to, Galfard brings previously unseen cosmic wonders to life.  Now complex and unknown things become burned into your mind. From a snarky robotic friend to gigantic musical strings, the universe becomes a memorable Alice in Wonderland-style journey. A Plotline… in Non-Fiction? Finally, Galfard uses an actual plot in an unusual twist to guide his reader through the entire universe.  Not only is it atypical, but it is also no easy task. Most often, astronomy and physics books stick to pure facts and figures in an effort to fit vast amounts of the necessary information into a single book.  Ultimately, while understandable and honorable, it can prove quite exhausting.  However, Christophe Galfard not only succeeds but enhances his writing in doing so. Indeed, from vivid descriptions that illuminate your learning experience to fun, light-hearted interjections about a quirky great aunt, Galfard actually personifies astrophysics.  Plus, like the rest of the book, the plot proves engaging and easy to follow. In fact, it ultimately helps you more easily digest large amounts of information. Regardless of your skill level in astronomy and physics, this book is a must-have for any bookshelf.  Novices will learn deeply about our beautiful universe. Not to mention, enthusiasts and beyond will still pick up fun new facts or simply enjoy a well-executed and exciting ride through the cosmos. About Christophe Galfard Dr. Christophe Galfard earned his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Cambridge University in England. It was there that he studied under world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking.  In fact, Galfard would go on to study cosmology and black holes with Hawking for several years. Today, Galfard travels the world, sharing his vast knowledge and passion for astronomy through public speaking, live shows, and books.