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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Death from the Skies Good, but Not Great

Posted by Doug on October 20, 2008

Death from the SkiesI guess Death from the Skies would have impressed me more if I wasn’t already familiar with the concepts Phil Plait wrote about. Asteroid impacts, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, the Big Rip—between the Bad Astronomy and Universe Today blogs and the Astronomy Cast podcast, I already had a pretty good idea about the various ways in which the Universe was going to eliminate our existences.

Still, a tale well told is worth hearing twice, and Phil does do a great job of introducing and explaining these end-of-the-world scenarios, and there is some new-to-me information, such as the idea that it was possible to slowly increase the Earth’s distance from the sun by using asteroids to steal orbital energy from one of the outer planets, like Jupiter, for example, and then give that energy to the Earth.  Give your asteroid the right orbit, and for every time around, Jupiter moves a little closer to the Sun, and the Earth moves a lot father away from the Sun—a useful strategy, if you’re trying to keep your planet away from its bloating-into-a-red-giant parent star.

Another small nitpick: I am fairly familiar with Phil Plait’s voice.  I’ve heard him speak (well, recordings of him speaking) on a number of occasions, and when I read, for example, his blog, I can readily “hear” his voice in my mind.  But while reading Death from the Skies, it just didn’t “sound” like Phil, except for a few sections, primarily the footnotes. A strange complaint, and one that really doesn’t detract from the book, I know.

Still, I would have to give this book an A−: good, interesting material about the end of the world  (indeed, the end of everything) as we know it, explained well, but just lacking that little extra zing that would make it great.

Phil has an excerpt up over at his Bad Astronomy blog, for those who want to take a look.


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Your Death from the Skies Has Been Delivered

Posted by Doug on October 16, 2008

Death from the SkiesYes! I got my copy of Phil Plait’s new book, Death from the Skies: These are the Ways the World Will End, in today. Phil is the author of the Bad Astronomy website and blog and in August was named the newest president of the James Randi Educational Foundation.  He also wrote a book that came out in 2002, Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax”, which…I haven’t bought…yet.

But I’ve been a fan of Phil (is it weird that I call him Phil?) for a while now. His enthusiasm and sense of humor turn a subject that too often is made to be boring into something truly fascinating.

You know, I just ran by the Bad Astronomy blog to fetch the URL and I noticed he has a timer with a countdown until Death from the Skies is released.  As I write this, the timer has 3 days 23 hours 40 minutes 21 seconds remaining…

What exactly is Death from the Skies about? Quoting from the jacket, “...Philip Plait presents some of the most fearsome end-of-the-world calamities, demystifies the scientific principles behind them, and gives us the odds that any of them will step out of the realm of sci-fi to disrupt our quiet corner of the cosmos.”

I have only read the first couple pages so far, but once I get out of the introduction and through some more of the astronomical death and destruction, I’ll write a more thorough review.  It might be a couple of days, though.

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