Starry Messenger

by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Kirkus The well-known astrophysicist argues in favor of science.Tyson, popular TV commentator and director of the Hayden Planetarium, points out that until a few centuries ago, all cultures explained natural phenomena through words from wise men (i.e., authority), sacred texts, and myths. Life was short, disease-ridden, and violent, and few claimed that important questions remained unanswered or that progress was possible. After the 17th-century Enlightenment, scientific inquiry began delivering explanations that are true even when you dont believe in them, and there followed significant improvements to our quality of life as a species. Even though science has delivered the goods for centuries, Tyson warns against two alternatives. The first, deeply held personal beliefs, are not susceptible to argument and range from the literal truth of the Bible to the superiority of the Dodgers over the Yankees. Personal beliefs are benign unless they become coercive political beliefs, and the intensity of this coercion continues to increase in todays political climate, sometimes culminating in violence. Tyson urges readers to base their actions on accurate observationevidence rather than feelingand a willingness to discard ideas that dont work. To deny objective truths is to be scientifically illiterate, he writes, not to be ideologically principled. Among the best sections of the book is an essay in which the author, taking a page from early racist anthropology, delivers a tongue-in-cheek but strictly fact-based argument that Whites resemble chimpanzees far more closely than Blacks do. Marshalling his evidence, he shows how easy it is to be racist. Since its been proven (scientifically) that humans are terrible at assessing risks, flummoxed by statistics, impervious to facts that contradict their prejudices, and murderously attached to their tribe, Tyson may be fighting a losing battle. Still, hes a welcome voice in the escalating fight with the array of forces aligned against science and rational thought.Good sense for those who value good sense. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal In this book, named for the English title of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius, Tyson (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry) once again earns his position as one of the foremost science communicators of the modern age. From the preface to the afterword, which he calls the overture and coda, every word and argument is beautifully balanced. The 10 chapters are themed to a cadence, with titles such as "Truth & Beauty," "War & Peace," and "Gender & Identity." Tyson's ability to simplify complex topics without seeming disparaging or condescending is refreshing, as is his willingness to approach such a broad range of topics in a forthright yet nonconfrontational manner. As Tyson states in his overture, this book truly is "a trove of insights, informed by the universe and brought to you by the methods and tools of science." It will encourage readers to question the biases that determine how they react to information from a variety of sources, from textbooks to social media pundits. VERDICT An excellent addition to any science collection that will encourage critical thinking by all who read it.—Jennifer Moore

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list Astrophysicist Tyson unabashedly wades into the political and cultural fray, using a “cosmic perspective” to weigh in on some of the topics that consume the majority of Americans today. Compared to the impartiality of his previous works, including Cosmic Queries (2021), emotions run high here as he tackles hot-button topics concerning gender identity, racial inequality, abortion, personal versus objective truths, and political beliefs. The tone and approach feel like an updated version of Freakonomics (2005) with the pointed and thought-provoking stance of a Dan Ariely book, but with more scientific undertones, a sprinkling of religious references, and a dash of sass. Tyson acknowledges that faith may intersect with science if one is religious, and that’s okay. Readers can expect his usual eye-opening comparisons of how things work using statistics, trivia, and history to bring meaning to everyday experiences. But Tyson is also offering a wake-up call as he provides an alternate, macro-level view with the hope that while society is agitating and polarizing, the reality of nature and the cosmos will keep us grounded and focused.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Science can shed light on “some of the most discussed and debated topics of our time,” writes astrophysicist Tyson (Cosmic Queries) in this cursory outing. While “people no longer know who or what to trust” and “sow hatred of others... without regard to what is true,” a nice dose of scientific perspective and “rational thinking” can help that, Tyson posits. He covers several contemporary critical subjects, including gender (“One day, we may discover or otherwise affirm no discrete categories at all, as the multidimensional gender universe unfolds along a continuum”), racism (were an alien to witness “our divided ways,” they’d report “no sign of intelligent life”), and vegetarianism (all food “come from killing and eating other forms of life in our ecosystem”). Tyson’s at his best when he explains what he sees as the unique power of science, touting the “self-regulating” nature of the scientific method and asserting that “conformity in science is anathema to progress.” Unfortunately, his examples are mostly trite, and a few proclamations come across as somewhat naive—a discussion of how to unite Republicans and Democrats draws on the low-judgment, “common love of imagination” found at ComicCon, for example. This quick and somewhat glib recap of the social value of science will likely leave readers wanting. (Sept.)

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Library Journal Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, Tyson takes an interesting turn here, applying science to offer an overarching perspective on holding civilization together despite the issues fracturing us. With a 500,000-copy first printing.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus The well-known astrophysicist argues in favor of science. Tyson, popular TV commentator and director of the Hayden Planetarium, points out that until a few centuries ago, all cultures explained natural phenomena through words from wise men (i.e., “authority”), sacred texts, and myths. Life was short, disease-ridden, and violent, and few claimed that important questions remained unanswered or that progress was possible. After the 17th-century Enlightenment, scientific inquiry began delivering explanations that “are true even when you don’t believe in them,” and there followed significant improvements to our quality of life as a species. Even though science has delivered the goods for centuries, Tyson warns against two alternatives. The first, deeply held personal beliefs, are not susceptible to argument and range from the literal truth of the Bible to the superiority of the Dodgers over the Yankees. Personal beliefs are benign unless they become coercive political beliefs, and the intensity of this coercion continues to increase in today’s political climate, sometimes culminating in violence. Tyson urges readers to base their actions on accurate observation—evidence rather than feeling—and a willingness to discard ideas that don’t work. “To deny objective truths is to be scientifically illiterate,” he writes, “not to be ideologically principled.” Among the best sections of the book is an essay in which the author, taking a page from early racist anthropology, delivers a tongue-in-cheek but strictly fact-based argument that Whites resemble chimpanzees far more closely than Blacks do. Marshalling his evidence, he shows “how easy it is to be racist.” Since it’s been proven (scientifically) that humans are terrible at assessing risks, flummoxed by statistics, impervious to facts that contradict their prejudices, and murderously attached to their tribe, Tyson may be fighting a losing battle. Still, he’s a welcome voice in the escalating fight with the array of forces aligned against science and rational thought. Good sense for those who value good sense. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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