Be­yond The Sky You and the Uni­verse

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOKS REVIEWS - CHRIS NORTH is Od­gen Science Lec­turer and STFC Pub­lic En­gage­ment Fel­low at Cardiff Univer­sity

Dara Ó Bri­ain Scholas­tic £12.99 HB

“So you want to go into space?” asks the first page of this very read­able book by Dara Ó Bri­ain, a name fa­mil­iar to view­ers of Stargaz­ing Live. The re­sponse – “What? Are You Mad? Why?” – ex­plains in no un­cer­tain terms why this would, in gen­eral, be a very bad idea, in a rather hu­mor­ous and at times hi­lar­i­ous style that runs right through the book.

The hu­mour is matched graph­i­cally by strik­ing changes in font that also stretch from cover to cover – a vis­ual style that is well aimed at this book’s tar­get age group of ju­nior school­child­ren. For the ‘tra­di­tion­al­ists’, rest as­sured that the read­abil­ity doesn’t ac­tu­ally suf­fer, and the em­pha­sis def­i­nitely adds some­thing.

Ó Bri­ain writes in a comedic tone, like he speaks, and I found my­self read­ing with the lilt of his Ir­ish ac­cent. The analo­gies and jokes are just right for the tar­get age group, and the car­toons and di­a­grams are clear and nicely drawn.

Af­ter ex­plain­ing why hu­man space­flight is so tricky, the book dis­cusses all the other ways in which we can ex­plore space with tele­scopes and ro­botic space­craft. There are a cou­ple of pages in the mid­dle about how to be­come an as­tro­naut (in­volv­ing wolves and whis­tles from aero­plane life jack­ets). De­spite the fact that such books take a while to write, it’s bang up to date, in­clud­ing the pre­dic­tion of Planet Nine, the dis­cov­ery of TRAPPIST-1 and the re­cent demise of Cassini. There’s a fun and ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture through the his­tory of as­tron­omy, the So­lar Sys­tem, black holes, and the lo­cal (and not so lo­cal) Uni­verse. The book even cov­ers the be­gin­ning and end of the Uni­verse in a fairly straight­for­ward (though still amus­ing) way, and does so with­out de­tract­ing from the sci­en­tific ac­cu­racy, as I would ex­pect from some­one with a physics de­gree. This book will ap­peal hugely to younger read­ers, and fin­ishes with what feels like a heart­felt plea for more as­tro­nauts, rocket sci­en­tists, stargaz­ers, en­gi­neers, roboti­cists and astronomer­s – all nicely in­cluded in the catch-all cat­e­gory of “ex­plor­ers”.

BOOK OF THE MONTH

Don’t let the il­lus­tra­tions fool you; this kids’ book of­fers se­ri­ous science

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