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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it's Tuesday, it must be Betelgeuse
"And behold the greatest mystery of them all: an unopened can of diet Pepsi floats in water while an unopened can of regular Pepsi sinks." - From DEATH BY BLACK HOLE

On graduating from high school near the top of my class, I had visions of becoming an aeronautical engineer helping send missions to the stars. (This was in 1967 during the height of the "space...
Published on 3 April 2008 by Joseph Haschka

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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Part Information. Part Rant
As suggested by other reviews there's an abundance of information and historical fact in this book, which keeps the reader happily occupied. No doubt though that anyone considering this book will already have read similar books but a lot of the information is presented differently here, and I believe easier to understand. There is also a good amount of historical fact,...
Published 14 months ago by OakenOak


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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it's Tuesday, it must be Betelgeuse, 3 April 2008
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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"And behold the greatest mystery of them all: an unopened can of diet Pepsi floats in water while an unopened can of regular Pepsi sinks." - From DEATH BY BLACK HOLE

On graduating from high school near the top of my class, I had visions of becoming an aeronautical engineer helping send missions to the stars. (This was in 1967 during the height of the "space race".) But, the realities of university-level physics and differential calculus soon brought me back to earth with a crash. And then I got drafted. If only I'd had DEATH BY BLACK HOLE to read, I might've been inspired to greater academic efforts. I could've become a superstar in the field of astrophysics, you think?

Well, probably not; I'm more of a Life Sciences kind of guy.

In forty-two chapters arrayed in seven sections, astrophysicist Neil deGasse Tyson guides us on a grand tour of the universe from the Big Bang 14 billion years ago to its projected end trillions of years hence when all energy is dissipated and cosmic death arrives with a whimper.

Section 1: "The challenges of knowing what is knowable in the universe" covers (the inadequacies of) our built-in human senses, the universality of physical laws, the ability of scientific observations to fool the observer, the potential trap of overabundant information, and what can be learned using the most rudimentary of measuring systems, which, in Tyson's example, is an upright stick stuck into the ground.

Did you know that Saturn's rings will be gone in about 100 million years? Book your seat on the tour early.

Section 2: "The challenges of discovering the contents of the cosmos" sets forth the genesis and journey of the Sun's energy, the (re)definition of "habitable zone" when considering the Solar System's planets and moons, asteroids, Lagrange Points, and antimatter.

Did you know that there's an asteroid named Ralph? Actually, I like to contemplate one named "Bob."

Section 3: "How nature presents herself to an inquiring mind" comprises discussions of physical and numerical constants, the speed of light, orbital mechanics, density, the visible light spectrum, rays other than visible light (radio, micro, infrared, ultraviolet, x, gamma), the colors of the cosmos, cosmic plasma, and the universe's temperature extremes.

Did you know that the coldest temperature ever achieved in a laboratory was 500 picokelvins (0.0000000005 degrees K)? Do you suppose the lab gnomes wore their wooly longjohns that day?

Section 4: "The challenges and triumphs of knowing how we got here" explores space dust, cosmic chemistry within supernovas, element synthesis within stars' cores (hydrogen to helium to carbon to nitrogen to oxygen to sodium to magnesium to silicon ... to, lastly, iron), the necessity of water for "habitability", the sources and properties of terrestrial water, the cosmic genesis of the molecular building blocks of life, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and Earth's radio footprint in the universe.

Did you know that hydrogen, carbon and oxygen are the top three ingredients of life on Earth? What, not chocolate? Say it ain't so, Joe!

Section 5: "All the ways the cosmos wants to kill us" delves into the inherent cosmic chaos, killer asteroids and comets, the eventual deaths of the Earth, Sun and universe, the properties of black holes, types of killer radiation, and DEATH BY BLACK HOLE.

Did you know that in 2036 the asteroid Apophis may slam into the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California generating a tsunami that'll drown the former and devastate the Pacific Rim? Dude, surf's up!

Section 6: "The ruffled interface between cosmic discovery and the public's reaction to it" surveys the unthinking things people say, the fear of certain numbers, scientific bafflement, the historically shifting cultural and national nodes of scientific discovery, the erosion of nocturnal darkness by city lights, and Hollywood's misrepresentation of the cosmos.

What is the error in the following statement?

"Days (i.e. the period of daylight) get shorter in the winter and longer in the summer."

Section 7: "When ways of knowing collide" describes the first two minutes after the Big Bang, the necessarily irreconcilable differences between religion and science, and the boundaries of our ignorance.

Did you know that Galileo reportedly stated during his trial, "The Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go"? Right on, bro.

Sections 6 and 7 represent a change in the tone of Tyson's narrative in that, to a large degree, they reflect the author's opinions rather than observed scientific facts. Indeed, a portion of Section 6 the author himself describes as a "rant". I'm not convinced that Neil's personal views provide a smoothly contiguous ending, but the whole is so superlative that I'll not nit-pick or knock off a star. Indeed, the strength of Tyson's writing is that he makes esoteric knowledge accessible to the average reader (such as one who bombed out of university physics and calculus). An example of his humorously common touch is:

"As a child, I knew that at night, with the lights out, infrared vision would discover monsters hiding in the bedroom closet only if they were warm-blooded. But everybody knows that your average bedroom monster is reptilian and cold-blooded. Infrared vision would thus miss a bedroom monster completely because it would simply blend in with the walls and the door."

In the perfect reading experience, I'm both diverted and educated. Both elements may otherwise be present or not. An example of a book that's entertaining but thoroughly non-instructional would be, say, any one of the Jack Reacher thrillers by Lee Child, e.g. BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE. At the opposite extreme would be any random school text regardless of how competently it presents the material. DEATH BY BLACK HOLE joins two other books that immediately come to mind that satisfy immensely on both levels: A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING by Bill Bryson and ROVING MARS by Steve Squyres. Tyson has written a volume for any inquiring and thinking reader who's ever gazed up at a cloudless night sky with wonder and the thought,"Cool! What's that all about?"

DEATH BY BLACK HOLE should be required reading for incoming high school freshmen; early on, it might get them focused on a career worth pursuing.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 20 May 2008
By 
Mr. Timothy Morris "Tim Morris" (Sutton Coldfield, England) - See all my reviews
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This must be one of the most entertaining, intelligent and informative books on popular science I've read in years. Can't really fault it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From science of Big Bang to science of Hollywood, 8 Nov 2010
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This is book as an awesome collection of writings by Dr Tyson on very interesting cosmological and astronomical topics. Dr Tyson has a great ability to describe complex and sophisticated concepts of cosmology in a simple and fun way. If you think the sun is yellow and it rises from east and sets in west, then I highly recommend to read this book!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, 14 Sep 2012
By 
V. Akopyan (UK) - See all my reviews
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I am yet to see another book on creation of the universe and laws of the heathens that is as fun to read. This book is great, written in Tyson's famous style (watch a couple of his presentations and you will know what I am talking about), entertaining and funny. It is also insightful and isn't just collection of fun-fact, you get the whole picture. A great read if you are interested in the cosmos and how it came to be. Much easier to read than the bible!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book, 17 Aug 2012
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One of the best books I've read in long time. It will actually help you to understand what it takes to be a scientist. I really enjoyed the section "Knowledge of nature", which actually opened my eyes have ignorant I'm most of the time. Anyway, this is my first review, I have yet to gain skills in this field, the book is a must have for anyone who values rational thinking and any scientific knowledge.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great educational book, 19 Feb 2014
By 
L. Hill - See all my reviews
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I'm not a scientist or an academic of any sort but have recently become interested in some branches of science and space imparticular. This book explains things in an amusing and easy to understand way, since im just a kind of dumb average guy who didn't pay attention in school i occasionally put the book down and do some research to get on the same page which leads me down various paths that help increase my understanding which is great. I highly reccomend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I just love Neil DeGrasse Tyson, 10 Feb 2014
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I just love Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I'll keep on buying his books just for the sake of it. I'm a 'universe' fan :)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gosh, how much I enjoyed that book., 30 Dec 2013
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I am reading loads of books, and I have loads more to read, waiting down the pipe. But this is probably one of few I will read again. That was such a good, nicely, smooth written science, I love how Neil is so vividly describing ie conditions inside core of our Sun or how atoms interact. He is literally pushing my imagination to the limits. Must have read book for everyone who enjoys astronomy !!!
Now, I need to buy printed version to proudly put it on my shelf.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Part Information. Part Rant, 9 Feb 2013
By 
OakenOak (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
As suggested by other reviews there's an abundance of information and historical fact in this book, which keeps the reader happily occupied. No doubt though that anyone considering this book will already have read similar books but a lot of the information is presented differently here, and I believe easier to understand. There is also a good amount of historical fact, which I found breaks up the detailed physics.

Whats not appreciated though is the amount of gripe and personal opinion in this book. A few examples...
He seems annoyed that astrophysicists are regularly reported in the press as being 'baffled'. Yet a few pages further on he admits that astrophysicists are baffled by (among other things) dark matter and the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.
An isolated argument with a certain biologist, where of course we only hear one side.
Even the Bible doesn't get off lightly. Genesis says the Earth was created before the sun and moon, but the author believes the Earth was created after, although fails to include the evidence.
The author seems frustrated by the lack of contribution to science by America. But mentions that the the 20th century is the 'American century'.
There are also numerous mention of errors in movies that conflict with science. Its a strange tangent, given that many of the offending movies were made in his beloved USA.

The author's ego and condescending style seems to get in the way of an enjoyable book and it certainly detracts from the title subject and on occasion questions the disposition of the author. I wonder if his next book will criticise the ignorance of certain Amazon reviewers.
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3 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing presentation, 30 Mar 2009
By 
RA Evans - See all my reviews
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I bought this book as a gift and was therefoire disappointed by the quality of the production. The cover was very flimsy paper, not much heavier than the pages, which were rough quality paper.

I felt a little embarrassed to give it as a gift as it felt 'bargain basement'.

That said, the recipient found the content entertaining and illuminating.
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Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Audio CD - Aug 2007)
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