Book Review: Astroquizzical – Dr Jillian Scudder

This book is perfect for people with an interest in space at all scales. It’s an ideal first adult science book for a teenager, a college student thinking about taking astronomy 101 and needing a grounding, or for any adult wanting to find out what parts of the Universe whets their appetite the most without being overwhelmed by numbers.

Starting on terra firma, Dr Scudder takes us through Earth’s story; from the planet itself, to the Solar System, the Milky Way galaxy and the Universe at large, and all the components that make them up. It builds beautifully, taking us through planetary formation, stellar evolution and the more recent work on gravitational waves with black hole mergers to name a few of the many topics covered.

The author has a warm voice and a great sense of dry humour peeking through the lines. She carries you effortlessly through the story of Earth and our Solar System’s evolution. Every technical term used is explained in simple, but no less accurate language. In other words, the text is accessible, not patronising in the slightest. The author’s long-standing background in both astronomy and science communication shines through here at keeping the book interesting without bogging the reader down in minute details, and where numbers are given there’s a sense of proportion and scale explained with them to help you grasp their significance. There are a few equations mentioned, but they’re more for interest rather than integral to the understanding of the book.

The author supplements the key facts by making a number of deep dives, answering questions using mathematics (what would happen if we had a portal to the moon? What would happen if you split the Sun in two?) that sound as though they could have come from the author’s original Astroquizzical blog. These are really fun thought experiments, and even if you are an old-hat at astronomy pop-science these will be new to you, and may spark questions of your own.

As the book is very broad in scope, some readers may not find their favourite parts of the Universe talked about in the detail they want (i.e. their favourite planet – note for Pluto fans, Pluto the dwarf planet /is/ talked about in detail!) so if readers are looking for every fact and every mission this isn’t the right book for them. But that’s where this book shines. It’s not a transcribed table of facts but a cosy and comprehensive overview text to give you a flavour of everything in space. There’s just enough information to get your brain whirring, and the book lets you wander off with that grounding to devour more.


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