Pop physics and astronomy from the last 20 years
August 31, 2021 8:27 PM   Subscribe

What are the best general audience books on physics, astronomy, and cosmology written in the last 20 years or so that cover recent developments in those fields?

When I was younger I read and enjoyed popular science books like A brief history of time, The first three minutes, and The elegant universe. While I was watching a science show with my kids tonight I realized that my lay understanding of science has gotten out of date. Are there any good books aimed at a general audience that cover recent discoveries in physics, astronomy, or cosmology? I don't expect to find books that only cover advances from the last 20 years, but I'd like to read some content that couldn't have been written by Brian Greene in 1999 (or wasn't written by Brian Greene in 1999 at least). I have a math degree and I'm comfortable with the basics of classical physics, general relativity, and quantum mechanics, so it doesn't have to be a book that introduces all of those things from scratch. I'm not totally averse to reading a friendly textbook, but I'm looking for leisure reading and not self-study so it would have to be one that you could read for fun.

Some of the topics that my kid has learned about on YouTube that I don't know much about are dark matter, dark energy, and white holes. These things may not be "recent discoveries", but I don't think they were covered in my depth in any of the books I read, so bonus points to any books that include them. Thank!
posted by jomato to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I read Frank Wilczek's Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality, earlier this year, which was a very easy read. It's very approachable and covers many of the more modern concepts that have developed since my formal schooling.

I also liked Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart and Time Travel: A History by James Glieck (and read Chaos, if you haven't). On the theme of time, but not necessarily about more cutting edge developments, I also liked Now, the Physics of Time by Richard Muller. And to pull it all together, The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack.

I'm also interested in other suggestions this thread will generate.
posted by typetive at 11:30 PM on August 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Check out The Royal Institution - YouTube videos that might interest you. The vast majority of them are authors making a book tour sort of thing. Give an hour lecture in that famous room, about some bits of my book, oh and they're available in the lobby for signing.

Look for maybe older talks given to the public, those are fun because the audience. Covid and zoom sorta made the last couple of years a bit meh.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:58 AM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I (similar background to you) got a lot out of Sean Carroll's book From Eternity to Here - it gave me a much better understanding of a way of thinking about entropy and the arrow of time in the cosmological context.

Not a book, but I also thought these lectures by Nima Arkani-Hamed gave a good overview of some of the topics you mentioned (dark energy in particular).
posted by crocomancer at 3:23 AM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack is a really well-written understandable book about the universe and what we know about how (and when) it might end. It's a fun take on a subject that can't help but be a bit of a downer, and it covers a really broad range of astrophysics topics in order to make sense of each theory it brings up.
posted by rikschell at 5:28 AM on September 1, 2021

Best answer: The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. Covers her research into dark matter, as well as lots of interesting thinking about what it means to do (astro)physics, and the role that racism and sexism has played in the field.
posted by damayanti at 6:04 AM on September 1, 2021

Best answer: I enjoyed the book about the changing status of Pluto
posted by Jacen at 12:34 PM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've always enjoyed the The Best American Science and Nature Writing series. It's published annually and usually covers a wide variety of science and nature popular science topics. So it's not limited to astronomy and physics but my recollection is that those topics are included in many volumes.
posted by ElKevbo at 7:00 PM on September 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding How I Killed Pluto
posted by atlantica at 8:34 AM on September 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
posted by Flexagon at 12:52 PM on September 2, 2021

Best answer: The Planets by Brian Cox, based on the BBC TV series.
The Secret Lives of Planets is also excellent.

Oxford University Press's 'very short introductions' - Stars, Planets, Moons, etc.

If you want to try a slightly different format, there's a wealth of courses on Coursera. Chris Impey's (U of Arizona) courses on astronomy and astrobiology are good places to start.
Mike Brown (Caltech), the 'plutokiller', has already been mentioned and he has a course on the science of the solar system (a little more advanced).
Giulio Magli's (Politecnico di Milano) course on archaeoastronomy is good as well. I've just finished David Spergel's (Princeton)'Imagining Other Earths', and am working through Charles Cockell's (Edinburgh) 'Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestial Life' and recommend both of these.
posted by plep at 8:47 AM on August 30, 2022

« Older Searching for an obscure audio drama with unusual...   |   Beyond bad handwriting. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.