Monday, December 22, 2008

Death From The Skies!

So I picked up my buddy (ok so I like his stuff, he probably hasn't ever read mine but thats ok) Phil's book this weekend for my cousin for christmas. I love giving books cause the recipient can't tell that I read it before giving it too them. Bwahaha!

Book Report Time

Death from the Skies!
by Phil Plait

So obviously I sat down read all but the last half a chapter in basically two sittings. I read a bit on Saturday and almost the whole rest of the book on Sunday. It was funny because I also bought a nice copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and in reading Death from the Skies! I couldn't help but notice a little bit of Adams in there. At one point I think it was in the discussion of Gamma Ray Emissions it called them "the biggest bang since the big one" or something to that effect. Basically the book is exactly what I expected, full of interesting info presented in a way that makes you just want to keep reading. I think it's plenty easy enough to read for anyone with at least a very basic understanding of the universe. But then in the middle of reading this I realized a problem, possibly a big one, but its not with the book. The cousin I bought this for is about to finish his PhD in Physics, he might find the book way to simple for his tastes. Again this isn't an insult towards the book, I really liked it, but I have no idea exactly where my cousins interests lie with astronomy and so he may enjoy it or he might find it too sophomoric.

I suppose I should tell you what the book is about. It's basically a list of ways the universe can and in some cases will, destroy the world as we know it. Some are obvious like the meteor smashing into the earth, others are inevitable but not for a very long time like when the sun goes all red giant on us, or ultimately the slow agonizing death of the universe itself. Then there are others that are so crazy they need to be mentioned but are extremely unlikely to happen such as falling into a passing black hole, blasted by a nearby supernova or getting vaporized by Gamma Rays. The book talks about how these events would unfold, then how we can maybe prevent them and ultimately what the chances are that it will happen. All with the humor and accuracy that is the reason I like Phil's writing. Basically I found the book really entertaining if a little depressing. It's pretty hard to look at the current view of how the universe is going to end up and not feel pretty bad about it. I really hope its wrong, I hope there is a big squeeze and it all starts over again, or something. I just don't see how there can be a finite beginning to it all but no end, I just think that time is either infinite or its not, but it can't be infinite in only one direction. It does touch on the multi-verse idea but only passingly because that far out on the edge of knowledge were really just don't know enough yet. Oh my only other quibble with the book is it does get repetitive at times, especially if you read the whole thing at once, because a common way for the universe to kill us is by stripping the earth of a large portion of its Ozone layer. Gamma rays have essentially the same effect wither their coming from crazy magnetic disturbances from the sun, a GRE or a supernova. But this is mostly just a problem of theres only so many ways to say it and their all true in each of these cases even though the cases are very different. I'm a pretty brutal judge so when thats my only fault in the book itself its quite a compliment.

So yes I can enthusiastically endorse this book for anyone who thinks sci-fi disaster movies are lame and want to see what real disaster looks like. Of course most of these wouldn't make for a good movie because no amount of heroism is going to save you from a gamma ray or a black hole. Enough intelligence and forethought might save you from an asteroid or even from the sun going red giant but that doesn't make for a good disaster movie. Anyway its a good fun book and I think its entertaining enough for even someone knowledgeable in the field (I hope) but easy enough for a high school kid that doesn't hate science.

Nice job Phil!

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