Astrophysics for People in a Hurry: A Review

I actually finished Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson a few weeks ago, but I’m just now getting around to composing some thoughts on it. Because, life. This was my second {maybe third?} read-though. It’s one of the few books I’ve ever purchased without first checking it out of the library to make sure it was worthy of spending money on a personal copy. {Spoiler alert: it is.}


If you’ve watched Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey {on Netflix and highly recommended} you will recognize several of the main points he makes throughout the text—although the book by no means follows the show by chapter or even approximately. He begins with “The Greatest Story Ever Told” {i.e., the birth of the universe} and ends with some personal reflections on the humbleness of our place in the cosmos.

Along the way individual chapters deal with dark matter, dark energy, the periodic table, the electromagnetic spectrum, and other topics. He does a good job of explaining the complex science without sounding condescending, but had I not already possessed a basic understanding of some of the points he addresses I think I might have been a little lost. {Or at the very least re-reading several sections to make sense of them.}

There will be several moments you will stop and think, Wow. I did not know that. That is so cool. Here’s one of mine from the beginning of Chapter 10, Between the Planets:
If you enclosed [our solar system] within a sphere—one large enough to contain the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet—then the volume occupied by the Sun, all planets, and their moons would take up a little more than one-trillionth the enclosed space.
I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoy science and learning about the universe, but need to be reminded of some of the finer points of cosmology. It’s not exactly a “light” read, but something you could easily work through in a week or two over your morning coffee. 

What Unites Us: A Review

Apparently this is the week for me to wrap up books, because I just wrote another book review this past weekend {An Appeal to the World, by the Dalai Lama} and here I am again. And I am just a chapter or two away from finishing a third. 

Today I’d like to take a look at What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather. I’ve been following Rather on Facebook, as well as listening to his new podcast, Blinking Red. {Highly recommended, BTW. Especially the episode from Friday 7 September.}


After a Preface and a brief introduction, the book is divided into five sections {Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, Character} with three chapters each. At 270 pages in total, it is smooth and well-written—not surprising given his decades in journalism. 

{Side note: When Dan Rather was the anchor for the CBS evening news, and aired nightly opposite Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, I was more of a Jennings fan, TBH.}

One of my favorite passages can be found partway through his introductory chapter, What Is Patriotism?
It is important not to confuse “patriotism” with “nationalism.” As I define it, nationalism is a monologue in which you place your country in a position of moral and cultural supremacy over others. Patriotism, while deeply personal, is a dialogue with your fellow citizens, and a larger world, about not only what you love about your country but also how it can be improved. Unchecked nationalism leads to conflict and war. Unbridled patriotism can lead to the betterment of society. Patriotism is rooted in humility. Nationalism is rooted in arrogance. 
He does a great job of weaving history—and lessons learned—into a relatable part autobiography, part commentary on the current state of our culture and politics in the United States. It probably goes without saying that he is not a fan of the current administration. This is clearly reflected in his prose, but never in an arrogant way. 

This is a solid read, and I recommend without hesitation. I might pass it along to my 12-year-old daughter, as I think she would appreciate hearing about our country’s recent history from someone who lived it. 

An Appeal to the World: A Review

I’ve deviated a bit from my list of books worth reading twice because I stumbled upon a few new reads I wanted to try. This week I finished An Appeal to the World: The Way to Peace in a Time of Division by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It’s a relatively quick read in a primarily question-and-answer format. 


What I love most about this book is its focus on secular ethics. It’s refreshing that a well-respected spiritual leader so eloquently presents the need for compassion and cooperation among all humans, regardless of religious inclinations or lack thereof. 

The topics presented range from mindfulness to war to neuroscience to the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on President Trump. Quite a few sections toward the end cover the tumultuous relationship between Tibet and China.

Throughout the book he emphasizes the importance of interdependence and working together toward a more peaceful and tolerant global society. This is a person who sees the potential good in everyone. That’s not to say he doesn’t present strong opinions; he does. He just does so in a way that thoughtfully considers the best possible outcome for all involved. The Dalai Lama is probably the closest any human can come to being truly unbiased.

A short book—112 pages including the Preface and a brief introduction by the author— but well-worth a look.

The One Where the Agents Go to School and Our Calendar Is Packed

Although we’ve just completed week 16 of our {year-round} homeschooling for this school year, the last few days felt like week 1 for many reasons. Something about turning the calendar to September still seems like a new beginning even when it’s not.

Ready to go {with lunches}

One big factor in this “starting over” feel is that the Agents began their Enrichment Academy through their charter school this week. An enrichment academy is exactly what it sounds like: something meant to enrich {not replace} their at-home learning. It meets one day a week for a few hours, and includes in-class time on math, language arts, and a rotating elective. {Currently Agent E is doing Spanish, Agent J art, and Agent A a mix of social studies and science.} They are all in separate grade-level classes, with different teachers. 

To say they loved their first day would be an understatement. All three thought their teachers were great and each came home uttering the name of at least one classmate they connected with. My weird homeschooled kids especially enjoyed being able to pack lunches. {Agent J has apparently also already mastered the art of lunch trading.} 

Some recent library selections

As I mentioned previously in this post discussing our non-busy lifestyle, we don’t add things to our calendar lightly. This seems {at least for now} to be a worthwhile addition.

Speaking of our planned calendar events . . . for some reason September seems to be more “booked” than recent months. We keep a dry-erase board calendar in the kitchen that includes everything from holidays to dentist appointments to what days we plan on grocery shopping to park play dates to vacations. Usually it has a lot of white space. This is not the case currently, and we all keep staring at it thinking, when did we become people who do things?

In other homeschool news, we’re plugging along with our review year. We’re still covering math, language arts, and Spanish most days. We’ve restarted the Sir Cumference math series, as well as the Basher language arts series. For now we’ve put Coffee Break Spanish aside and are concentrating on written Spanish. Geography, American and world history, science, health, art, music, mythology, and world religions are each being covered twice a week. Current topics include planet earth, earthquakes, northeastern states, ancient history, materials, dinosaurs, human body, self-care, impressionism, opera, Greek mythology, and Buddhism. 

Agent O investigating the tent

We also re-organized the play room this week, and put the tent back up . . . still an Agent favorite after all the years we’ve had it. While cleaning we {well, the Agents} decided they could part with a few things, so we’re working on a donation box. I might ask {this thing? really? you need this?} but I don’t force them to de-clutter toys and books if they say they want to keep them. {I addressed why in Whose Stuff Is It, Anyway?, a post I wrote six years ago this month, which was mind-blowing to discover, but I digress.}

Linking up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers for the weekly wrap-up.