Astroquizzical A Curious Journey Through our Cosmic Family Tree
Jillian Scudder Icon Books £16.99 HB
Dr Jillian Scudder is an astrophysicist and author of the successful astronomy blog
Astroquizzical. Now, she’s using her blog as the inspiration for her first venture into book-based science popularisation.
While the blog comprises an archive of fun, quirky, thought-provoking questionand-answer discussions, Scudder has decided on a chapter-based narrative for the book version. To a certain extent this approach works, though the book does lose some of the blog’s character in transition, and the text is also surprisingly brief. Not that the book is without its merits, though.
Scudder’s mission is to provide the lay reader with a thorough grounding in the basics of astronomical knowledge. She delivers an informative guide to modern astronomy, with most scientific terms and principles adequately explained in easy-to-follow language. The writing is fluid and direct with the subject material brought vibrantly to life.
Beginning with an overview of our human interaction with the night sky, Scudder delves into the mysteries of the Moon and the Solar System in separate chapters, and then concentrates on ‘Stars’, ‘Stellar Deaths’, ‘Galaxies’ and, finally, ‘The Universe at Large’. Oddly (perhaps as a result of a bias in the blog question submissions), almost half the book concerns Solar System objects. Here and there the author drops in a ‘thought experiment’ where a particular peculiarity of astrophysics – a ‘what-if ’ scenario – is given a thought-provoking treatment. These are welcome diversions from the main text and retain more of the meandering but entertaining flavour of the blog. One of the main problems the book has is trying to fit the sheer scope of the subject matter into such a brief page count (282 pages). Some subjects are necessarily dealt with in a cursory manner (or sometimes not at all) and if Scudder had been given twice the number of pages, the result may have been much more satisfying. Even so, for astro novices this book version of Astroquizzical will bring a welcome depth to their appreciation of the night sky and the wonders it holds.
DR ALASTAIR GUNN is a radio astronomer at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire
The book of Astroquizzical is more for beginners than the blog that inspired it