Astro­quizzi­cal A Cu­ri­ous Jour­ney Through our Cos­mic Fam­ily Tree

Jil­lian Scud­der Icon Books £16.99 HB

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOKS -

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

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