Curiosity of man knows no bounds. People are always intrigued by the grandeur of space, but not many people can understand all the complex physical processes. Astrophysics is a branch of science that deals with the properties of heavenly bodies and the physical processes that govern their dynamics. In order to explain theories and scientific laws to the general public, science authors usually use simple language. Sci-fi writers also contribute to this. They often use astrophysical theories and laws in their writings.
The sci-fi genre has become popular in the past decades. 11 out of 20 top-grossing films made in 2010 were of the same genre. Similarly, in 2020, 29 films were produced in the same genre, making up 20.33% of the market share. Senior vice president Bruce Nichols of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers said in his podcast: “the entire genre has gone mainstream and some absolutely terrific writers are contributing to it, more than ever before.” Similarly, hundreds of authors have also contributed to the sci-fi genre.
Here are the top 6 books related to space, astronomy, and astrophysics, both sci-fi and non-fiction, which break down very complicated astrophysical phenomena into an easily understandable language that everyone should read.
Cosmos was written in 1980 by Carl Sagan, a NASA astronomer. He was also the one to design the first mission to Mars. I place this book at the top of the list for several reasons; it has Tons of information is simple to understand and tries to answer a few of the biggest questions in the history of scientific discovery. This book has given me the ability to think differently. Here are a few takeaways from the book:
- We must never stop learning, questioning and exploring. A whole universe is there to explore. The more one explores, the more one knows about the general understanding of nature at work. Better understanding will lead to better ideas and theories of nature.
- We must not assume our place as a special one in the universe. We are sitting on a planet revolving around an average-sized star, existing in an average-sized galaxy somewhere in the universe.
- Aliens may be out there but they may not look like green people with antennas on their heads or laser blasters. There may exist microbial life out there somewhere.
One of my favourite quotes from the book is:
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
Astrophysics for people in a hurry
The Cosmos and Astrophysics for people in a hurry are targeted to audiences with mere astrophysical understanding. Astrophysics for people in a hurry is written by Neil Degrasse Tyson, a planetary astrophysicist and director of Hyden planetarium and a host to a famous show at National Geographic, “The Cosmos”.
Nature of space and time, laws of physics, contents of the universe, the space in between galaxies, Earth, planets and planets around other stars, the author explains very complex processes and phenomena in very simple language that even someone with absolutely no background in astronomy can easily understand. Highly recommended to people in a hurry and need a quick overview of the Cosmos.
Theory of everything
Stephan Hawking, one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century, was a mathematician and a theoretical physicist who contributed to understanding gravity, black holes, general relativity and properties of the universe, etc.
This book is a series of his seven lectures in which he discussed the mysterious black holes, the expanding universe, the origin of the universe and the big bang. He started with the idea of the universe as described by the famous philosopher Aristotle and then the work of Edwin Hubble, who discovered the universe’s expansion. He then discusses the theories on the universe’s origin and the nature of the universe’s most mysterious objects, the black holes.
Hawking further described the formulation of a single detailed equation that defines every physical aspect of the Universe. The author mentioned that this would not be an easy task to perform. At first, partial theories have to be constructed. These theories will then be combined into what he calls “The theory of everything (TOE)’’. However, this merger is yet to happen. TOE is based on two theoretical frameworks: general relativity (GR) and quantum mechanics.
The former deals with understanding gravity, large-scale structures such as galaxies, galaxy clusters, and regions with high mass content in the universe. Whereas the latter deals with the smallest of scales and objects i.e. atoms and sub-atomic particles. Quantum mechanics and GR have been successfully proven in their respective regimes; however, scientists have yet failed to combine them. Scientists are still trying to find ways to overcome this issue by looking into the underlying theoretical network of quantum mechanics and its components.
The book presents the most complex physical theories and processes in such a simple way that it is easily understandable by a layperson.
Three body problem
My personal favourite Sci-Fi novel, written by Chinese author Cixin Liu, this book made it to the top sellers in the sci-fi genre and received Hugo and Nebula Awards. This is the first of the trilogy.
The plot revolves around a Chinese astrophysicist whose father, also an astrophysicist, was killed during the Chinese revolution. She established contact with an extraterrestrial life form, who were dealing with their fate as their solar system consisted of 3 suns. Since the three-body problem is chaotic in nature, so are the lives of the alien civilization. Upon receiving the message, the technologically advanced aliens left their system to invade the Earth and save their species, which exists in a stable solar system.
The book is packed with relatively complex futuristic concepts and requires some good grip on the basics of physics. A point lost for the cold writing style and complex scientific concepts.
Overall score is 7/10.
Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy
Made it to the BBC’s top 100 books a person should read before dying, this is a sci-fi comedy written by Douglas Adams. The story revolves around “Arthur Dent” whose house was about to be demolished by the road builders. His alien friend, whom he never knew about, tells him that the Earth is about to be destroyed by aliens to establish a Hyperspatial express route. Arthur was saved by his alien friend moments before the Earth was destroyed.
Don’t panic! A phrase that was written on the cover of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because this keeps intergalactic travellers from panicking. In 2018, SpaceX launched a Tesla Roadster into space with the exact phrase being displayed on its centre screen. Remember it was written in 1979, but if you are a sci-fi enthusiast – packed with comedy – this book will catch your attention.
This one receives my special praise as this is the only space-related sci-fi book set in Karachi, Pakistan. My home city! The book covers a story of a young boy from Karachi who ends up meeting extraterrestrials. The outer space beings were on a mission to search for essential mineral resources hidden in the centre of Karachi.
The story takes place in the city’s famous regions, immersing a reader like me in the book. The book packs suspense, comedy, science fiction and thrill nicely. The best part of the book is that it covers the life of an ordinary person from Karachi, to which I can relate a lot. The book is available in famous bookstores in Pakistan. You can also find it online here link.
I would totally recommend this book with a score of 8/10.
The list, however, doesn’t stop here. These are merely a few books I would recommend to people to read. Especially to those who are looking to read about the cosmos. Some countless authors and books have contributed to this field. Reading about sci-fi allows us to broaden our thinking capacity and provides us with a way to escape from reality.
Moreover, reading non-fiction will increase our knowledge and understanding of the cosmos and the processes and dynamics of space itself. A mix of both fiction and non-fiction will help you understand a lot about the cosmos.
Also, read: Book Review: The Fabric of the Cosmos
Adnan Baig is a space science graduate from the Institute of Space Technology, who also served as a student research assistant at the Leibniz Institute of Astrophysics, Potsdam, Germany. Moreover, he has co-authored several international research publications. Adnan has several interests including space research, astrophysics, environmental science, nature photography, writing, reading and watching movies and anime.