cover image One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos

One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos

Neil deGrasse Tyson. National Academy Press, $40 (218pp) ISBN 978-0-309-06488-0

Startling, sparkling color photos and very accessible explanations of the laws and history of physics make this book a treat. Its pictures, clean diagrams, spiffy typography and bite-size takes on mass and energy--from quarks to Coriolis effects to quasars--mark its origins in a celebration: the volume coincides with the reopening of the Hayden Planetarium at Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History. Tyson (who runs the planetarium), Liu (a physicist at the museum) and Irion (a contributing editor at Science) make the science they explain sound both awesome and painless. The authors begin and end at the cosmological level, with the Big Bang and the expanding universe; in between, they cover black holes, meteor strikes, spectral lines, particle accelerators, ""gravity waves"" (which astronomers might find soon), extraterrestrial life (we're still looking) and the elusive particle called the Higgs boson (ditto). The expanding universe (in which galaxies constantly move apart from one another) gets illustrated with ladybugs on the surface of a balloon. Zippy orange computer-enhanced photos show how a solar system can coalesce from ""a disk of leftover material swirling around a new star."" A ""hyperkinetic unicyclist"" helps explain Einstein's special relativity. And sandy beachside toes, shown next to a potholder and an iron pan, illustrate how nonconducting materials prevent, while conducting materials facilitate, the transmission of heat. This is a book seemingly designed more to be browsed than to be read straight through, and it might not mind just being admired (especially if it sends readers to the planetarium). A glossary and timeline can help readers learn, look up and remember the info so many physicists worked hard to discover. 30,000 first printing. (Mar.)