Saturday, March 31, 2012

BC2012: Death from the Skies! by Philip Plait

I've mentioned before that sometimes I like to pick out books based on a common theme. A week after Jon Ronson was on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Plait appeared on the same show. Although Death from the Skies! was discussed even less than The Psychopath Test -- sometimes Ferguson has interesting people on his show just to shoot the shit rather than actually discussing their work (btw Plait held his own with the quick-witted host) -- I decided to read it next. Like Ronson's book, I have owned this book for a while. I bought it at Borders in Orland Park the weekend before the initial bankruptcy announcement. Oh, how I miss those $3.99 clearance racks at Borders!

As an astronomer, Plait examines the ways life on Earth could be wiped out by extraterrestrial events ranging from asteroid impacts to gamma ray bursts to the end of the Sun and ultimately the universe. He explains these phenomena clearly and colorfully. The bulk of my astronomical knowledge* is 30 years old, and back then I leaned more toward observational astronomy than astrophysics, so Death from the Skies! helped to bring me up to date.

The cover features a comic book-like illustration of people fleeing from a fireball. The guy in front has a soul patch, and another is a dead ringer for Drew Peterson. I must say, imagining the destruction of hipsters and Drew Peterson makes me feel a little better about the end of humankind. I wonder about the choice of cover art, though. I understand it, but I wonder if it might turn off potential readers who don't "get it" and think the book is sensationalist rather than scientific. I hope that isn't the case because Death from the Skies! deserves to be widely read (hmm... come to think of it, one may argue that in today's society more people would buy and read the book if they expected it to be sensationalist rather than scientific). Now I'm looking forward to reading Plait's first book, Bad Astronomy.

* That is to say, my knowledge about astronomy, rather than to imply that the vastness of my knowledge is astronomical.


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