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The first ⅓ of this book is really good but it then falls apart as the author appears to get lost. In particular he fails to get to grips with the Northern Territory landscape and Aboriginal culture, both of which are integral to the story. Additionally, the narrator presents the lead, a 12 year old girl, as more like an 8 year old but the story presents her as a young teen. At times this conflict was so contorting that I was close to stop listening. A thought for all narrators: please do not try to interpret the story for the listener. You are a narrator not an actor. Also, when the story is making a point, do not lower your voice to highlight that point. If the listener cannot hear it, you have totally failed.
This book is possibly the very best introduction to astrophysics I’ve read. No doubt there are many more technical books but this one is designed to encourage the young. A great blend of fact, imagination and awe.
If the author’s style sounds a bit patronizing, liberal arts majors should give thanks. This book helps offset all that time spent in art history and political science classes, while presenting enough factoids to survive cocktails with science majors.
Early in the going, comes a mention of globular clusters, described as “the retirement communities of the Milky Way” since “most of the stars have lived for more than 12 billion years.” A quote like that should at least get you a glass of wine.
A little further on, comes a description of cepheid variable stars as the “heartbeats of the sky — millions of hardworking metronomes beating their own rhythms.” This is the sort of nugget to get physicists talking among themselves and divert attention from your science shortcomings.
The author provides easily memorized fact capsules on the energy output of the sun; supernovas; comets; and Messier objects. Mentioning any of these topics might cut you a break and help the science people forget you’re even there.
But don’t press your luck.
Dr. Harvey-Smith cites the website for the National Aerospace and Space Administration. Do not use that title. NASA’s full name is The National AERONAUTICS and Space Administration.
Also you would think an astrophysicist would be exacting about numbers. Not so fast. For example, on page 100 she says the Milky Way contains “around 300 billion stars.” Just two pages later she writes the Milky Way has “an estimated 200 billion stars.” Wait. I thought the universe was expanding. Then there’s the thing on page two where she says there are a “billion trillion stars” in the observable universe. On page 95, however, she says it’s “70 sextillion.” Not that I can get my head around either number, but come on now. Which is it?
Professor Harvey-Smith’s book drapes the “incomprehensible” with entertainment. She offers just enough information for a liberal arts person to leave a physics person’s pool party early without contrition or distress. I’ll drink to that.