cover image The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

Neil deGrasse Tyson. Doubleday Books, $23.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48838-9

Tyson (see One Universe, reviewed above) directs the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. His pleasant, digressive memoir explains how he got there, what it's like to be a famous astronomer and what he thinks of his work. At first it's a story about how science education can go right. We learn that Tyson, who is African-American, grew up among tall buildings in the Bronx--but his is not a story of triumph over grinding poverty. Young Tyson got a break from the city when his father found a one-year lectureship at Harvard, and as for the electricity required to run one of his first telescopes, ""my dentist... happened to live on the nineteenth floor."" Tyson's later chapters offer memories, anecdotes and musings on astrophysics, education, politics, popular culture and even wrestling, in which Tyson competed until grad school. Tyson explains how his wrestling skills and knowledge of physics helped him end an Italian traffic jam by lifting a parked car, and how he tried to buy a meteorite but lost an auction to Steven Spielberg. In one chapter, Hollywood's science mistakes raise Tyson's ire (the film Titanic got its night sky all wrong); in the next, he discusses getting stopped by police for ""Driving While Black."" With sentences like ""The universe poured down from the sky and flowed into my body,"" Tyson may not be his discipline's best prose stylist; neither his essays nor his life match the unpredictable charm of Richard Feynman's. But he comes off very likably, and presents physics with ease and clarity. It's easy to imagine his memoir inspiring young future astrophysicists--and inspiring grownups to help them out. (Feb.)