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Universe Down to Earth

By Neil deGrasse Tyson

Essays on special topics in astronomy that evolved principally from invited talks and lectures delivered for introductory college astronomy classes at Columbia UniversityUniversity of Maryland, and University of Texas. The book uses creative “household” analogies to help bring complex topics of the universe to the lay reader.

This witty, often amusing exploration of the physical universe explains fundamental concepts in a language that is clear even to those with little or no science background. Tyson transforms everyday experiences into venues of cosmic enlightenment as he probes the philosophy, methods, and discoveries of science, including stellar evolution, the conservation of energy, the electromagnetic spectrum, gravity, and thermodynamics.

Beginning with the history of counting, Tyson takes us up and down the number line from picometers to light years as he demonstrates the universality of mathematics. We then learn about the scientific method and its importance not only to cutting-edge researchers but also to laypeople like television advertisers, who use it in commercials to prove the worth of products that lift stains, eradicate “ring-around-the-collar,” and absorb “excess stomach acid.”

Tyson deftly demystifies astronomical terms and concepts such as the Big Bang, black holes, redshifts, syzygy, and Kirkwood Gaps; traces the life of the stars from birth to death; presents the Periodic Table of Elements, highlighting noteworthy elements such as titanium, iron, and hydrogen; gives an unorthodox yet entertaining tour of famous constellations; and tackles modern-day astrology.

Universe Down to Earth makes vivid analogies between scientific laws and household items such as oven-baked pies, tossed tomatoes, and lightbulbs, as well as amusement park rides, Hollywood films, and junk food. Consequently, each idea presented etches delightful impressions on the reader’s mind. Bringing demonstrations of the principles of nature into the living room, Tyson writes in a lucid, easygoing style that finally makes scientific literacy possible for enthusiasts and those with math and science phobias alike.

Tyson wrote Universe Down to Earth out of his experience in teaching astronomy to real people who have little scientific background. This makes it different from the many books written without such experience. Tyson writes in a simple style with a lightness of touch, which can come only to one who is absolute master of his subject.

Freeman Dyson, The Institute for Advanced Study

A sprightly, easy-to-read introduction to some key ideas of physics and astronomy, marked by well-chosen anecdotes and lucid explanations. An ideal present for anyone interested in science.

Carl Sagan, Cornell University

Universe Down to Earth is a most original book, designed to explain modern astronomy to the uninitiated. Its very clear descriptions are supplemented by many analogies with everyday experience, which are unusually informative as well as highly entertaining. The book stands out as a remarkable example of effective and enjoyable communication in a fascinating field of science.

Lyman Spitzer, Jr., Princeton University

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Publisher details


May 1994
Columbia University Press
277 pages


October 1995
Columbia University Press
277 pages