I 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.