REVIEW: Space Chronicles

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Written by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

$26.95 / Hardcover / 384 pages

Published by W. W. Norton & Company

If I had to use one word to describe Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (other than the obvious “brilliant” synonyms) I’d say he’s passionate. His desire to help the public appreciate science crosses media barriers with a verve and energy unmatched by many modern agenda promoters. Space Chronicles reads like an attempt to distill and bottle some of that passion, and the ensuing cocktail is an invigorating delight sure to infuse the reader with the spirit of Dr. Tyson himself.

First, a bit about the less-than-conventional format. The book is a collection of essays, interviews, tweets, and more that have been collected from over the years. This tactic of book compilation could come across as lazy were it not clear that thought went into the final product. Pieces are not simply chronological, but more thematic explorations of various facets of the cosmic exploratory gem.

This formatting leads to some interesting trends. I found that certain points are repeated more than one would expect in a more typically produced book. I felt that the repetition helped highlight the “big picture” and made some of the more impressive statistics easier to remember and keep track of. Beyond that, the repetition could be seen as poetic, serving as a bridge to Tyson’s often Preacher-like cadence and speaking style.

The differentiation in media collected for the book also serves to break up the pace of normal reading. A chapter clearly written to be read may be followed by a page-long series of tweets then followed by a live interview, and anyone who has heard Dr. Tyson speak should hear his voice in their mind clear as day. The constant shifts in tone and style keep the book fresh and dynamic, just begging the reader to turn the page at the end of each chapter.

Space Chronicles is written for the public, not just the scientist or space enthusiast. Rather than dumb down the science for the uninitiated, Dr. Tyson successfully elevates the discourse in order to bring the reader along for the discussion instead of just talking at them. Tyson knows what gets people excited, but he also knows what is possible within the scope of financial and political reality, and he manages to balance the frontier of discovery with what is actually possible. This tactic serves to inspire as well as motivate. While your mind’s eye focuses on the cosmic perspective, your gut tells you to get working on how to actually solve the immediate problems facing our national discussion on space.

Dr. Tyson likes to remind us to “keep looking up.” I’m a paleontologist, so I almost literally have my head in the dirt looking straight down, but he’s right in that even I was inspired by space at an early age almost as much by dinosaurs. Tyson is right that we need big projects fueled by big ideas to keep science in our nation and in our world as vibrant as possible. Science relies heavily on the influx of the young motivated dreamers, and I think this book will create a few, or at least remind those who may have forgotten.

 4.5 Brachiolopes out of 5

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