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Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military

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In this fascinating foray into the centuries-old relationship between science and military power, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and writer-researcher Avis Lang examine how the methods and tools of astrophysics have been enlisted in the service of war. "The overlap is strong, and the knowledge flows in both directions," say the authors, because astrophysicist In this fascinating foray into the centuries-old relationship between science and military power, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and writer-researcher Avis Lang examine how the methods and tools of astrophysics have been enlisted in the service of war. "The overlap is strong, and the knowledge flows in both directions," say the authors, because astrophysicists and military planners care about many of the same things: multi-spectral detection, ranging, tracking, imaging, high ground, nuclear fusion, and access to space. Tyson and Lang call it a "curiously complicit" alliance. "The universe is both the ultimate frontier and the highest of high grounds," they write. "Shared by both space scientists and space warriors, it’s a laboratory for one and a battlefield for the other. The explorer wants to understand it; the soldier wants to dominate it. But without the right technology—which is more or less the same technology for both parties—nobody can get to it, operate in it, scrutinize it, dominate it, or use it to their advantage and someone else’s disadvantage." Spanning early celestial navigation to satellite-enabled warfare, Accessory to War is a richly researched and provocative examination of the intersection of science, technology, industry, and power that will introduce Tyson’s millions of fans to yet another dimension of how the universe has shaped our lives and our world.


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In this fascinating foray into the centuries-old relationship between science and military power, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and writer-researcher Avis Lang examine how the methods and tools of astrophysics have been enlisted in the service of war. "The overlap is strong, and the knowledge flows in both directions," say the authors, because astrophysicist In this fascinating foray into the centuries-old relationship between science and military power, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and writer-researcher Avis Lang examine how the methods and tools of astrophysics have been enlisted in the service of war. "The overlap is strong, and the knowledge flows in both directions," say the authors, because astrophysicists and military planners care about many of the same things: multi-spectral detection, ranging, tracking, imaging, high ground, nuclear fusion, and access to space. Tyson and Lang call it a "curiously complicit" alliance. "The universe is both the ultimate frontier and the highest of high grounds," they write. "Shared by both space scientists and space warriors, it’s a laboratory for one and a battlefield for the other. The explorer wants to understand it; the soldier wants to dominate it. But without the right technology—which is more or less the same technology for both parties—nobody can get to it, operate in it, scrutinize it, dominate it, or use it to their advantage and someone else’s disadvantage." Spanning early celestial navigation to satellite-enabled warfare, Accessory to War is a richly researched and provocative examination of the intersection of science, technology, industry, and power that will introduce Tyson’s millions of fans to yet another dimension of how the universe has shaped our lives and our world.

30 review for Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    An alternate (and, arguably, better) title for this could be THE HISTORY OF ASTROPHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN LESS OF A HURRY, and it's just as fascinating and richly observed as Mr. Degrasse Tyson's slimmer volume from last year. Unfortunately, there's also a very long section in the middle that feels like an exhaustive attempt to find every UN declaration ever made about the use of outer space, and it really bogs down what has, up until that point, been a rollicking adventure through the ages. It's a An alternate (and, arguably, better) title for this could be THE HISTORY OF ASTROPHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN LESS OF A HURRY, and it's just as fascinating and richly observed as Mr. Degrasse Tyson's slimmer volume from last year. Unfortunately, there's also a very long section in the middle that feels like an exhaustive attempt to find every UN declaration ever made about the use of outer space, and it really bogs down what has, up until that point, been a rollicking adventure through the ages. It's a good read, but not one that I think I'll be going back to in the years to come. It is undeniably successful at making you marvel at the universe, though, and there were prolonged sections where I read with wonder at the people and ideas contained within.

  2. 3 out of 5

    Jennifer

    "Many significant advances in our understanding of the cosmos are by-products of government investment in the apparatus of warfare, and many innovative instruments of destruction are by-products of advances in astrophysics." Neil deGrasse Tyson expands on this statement by leaps and bounds in his book: Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military. With almost 600 pages and nearly 19 hours via audio, Accessory to War is a mixture of science, history, education "Many significant advances in our understanding of the cosmos are by-products of government investment in the apparatus of warfare, and many innovative instruments of destruction are by-products of advances in astrophysics." Neil deGrasse Tyson expands on this statement by leaps and bounds in his book: Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military. With almost 600 pages and nearly 19 hours via audio, Accessory to War is a mixture of science, history, education, and thought-provoking contradictions and perspective. At times fascinating and at other times dry as a bone, I admit to needing several breaks during my reading experience. However, Tyson has a way of helping the common non-scientist, like me, learn about and understand subjects that may feel otherwise quite intimidating. Tyson begins this book with emotion and ends on a chapter filled with hope, both which I loved. The lengthy middle may be hit or miss for some but like he says in his first chapter, "It's better to see than not to see. It's better to know than not to know, better to understand than not to understand." Overall, Accessory to War offers an important learning opportunity that should be considered. My favorite quote: "Though smitten by the cosmos, we have no choice but to embrace it from multiple degrees of separation: when we want to know the motions of a star, we examine not the star itself, not an image of the star, not even the spectrum derived from the light recorded in an image of the star, but rather shifts in the patterns in the spectrum derived from the light recorded in an image of the star. A convoluted consummation. So astrophysicists have learned to be lateral thinkers, to come up with indirect solutions. True, scientists in general are skillful problem solvers. Physicists can build a better vacuum chamber or a bigger particle accelerator. Chemists can purify their ingredients, change the temperature, try out a novel catalyst. Biologists can experiment on organisms born and bred in the lab. Physicians can question their patients. Animal behaviorists can spend hours watching clans of their favorite creatures. Geologists can scrutinize a hillside ravine or dig up sample rocks. But astrophysicists need to find another way, never forgetting that we're the passive party in a singularly one-sided relationship."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jon Stone

    I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. For anyone interested in the linkage between the missions of science and warfighting, this book is for you. I feel like I can tell the pages written by Dr. Tyson, and those written by Avis Lang. That may sound negative, but it’s not. I think the humor and perspective of Dr. Tyson comes through more with the contrast. Anyone interested in the early days of space (both military and civil) should give this a r I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. For anyone interested in the linkage between the missions of science and warfighting, this book is for you. I feel like I can tell the pages written by Dr. Tyson, and those written by Avis Lang. That may sound negative, but it’s not. I think the humor and perspective of Dr. Tyson comes through more with the contrast. Anyone interested in the early days of space (both military and civil) should give this a read for a sort of intro to the subject. That aside, the book doesn’t paint a poignant picture of the military as I expected. It’s not pro-war, and not 100% anti-military either. Unless you are Aunt Melissa, that is. Overall a good read that I felt compelled to read whenever I had time to do so. Will buy this when out in paperback to have at home for sure.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bria

    After wading through the pages of medieval history, old rudimentary inventions like longitude, and the CNN opinion-like pages of anger at the American military, you got like five pages on the actual weapons of space and some information about a space war. The advertising and naming of this book was a smoke screen. It was 50% venting about how terrible we are as humans because we engage in war and spend money on it (which if you look at history, at least 50% of all nations energy went towards figh After wading through the pages of medieval history, old rudimentary inventions like longitude, and the CNN opinion-like pages of anger at the American military, you got like five pages on the actual weapons of space and some information about a space war. The advertising and naming of this book was a smoke screen. It was 50% venting about how terrible we are as humans because we engage in war and spend money on it (which if you look at history, at least 50% of all nations energy went towards fighting whether they were hunter/gathers or nations like Egypt. Once you have something, even if it’s a horse or bread, just look at Gengis Khan’s rise to power, someone else will want it) and the second 50% was describing how lucky we are that we spend money on war so we can advance our scientific research and pour more money towards scientists. If I wanted to read a book defaming America’s military history, I would. I didn’t want to read that here. I wanted a factual scientific read without snide adjectives and random quotes, sometimes without even names from who said them, siding with the I-hate-America rhetoric. I hate hypocrisy. Look Tyson and Lang, if you hate what America is doing, leave. It’s that simple. Take a stand. Instead you go on every talk show possible and use America to line your own pockets. Its also incredibly naive to think that if we didn’t spend money on our military that we would still be as safe as we are now. There is a reason Americans listen to traffic lights, that the police answer when you call, that you can walk down the street without being bombed. We have never seen war like other countries have. After the thirty years war a poem called the Widow was popular. It featured a woman, prematurely aged by war who lost her husband and children and home to it and now begged on the side of the road. We have never experienced that horror. So no, Tyson and Lang, I will not be joining you on your military witch hunt.

  5. 3 out of 5

    Sirius Scientist

    A detailed account of the impact of specific sciences on military advancement and the resulting outcomes. Heavy on the military angle--for those who think this is going to be another popular physics book. This is not a deep dive into the theory of various physics and engineering disciplines, but instead a meshing of where funding comes from, politics, how projects are prioritized, what this prioritization does to science advancement on the global scale, how current events shape the ideals of the A detailed account of the impact of specific sciences on military advancement and the resulting outcomes. Heavy on the military angle--for those who think this is going to be another popular physics book. This is not a deep dive into the theory of various physics and engineering disciplines, but instead a meshing of where funding comes from, politics, how projects are prioritized, what this prioritization does to science advancement on the global scale, how current events shape the ideals of the next generation of scientists, and how discovery builds overtime. I'm too young to remember the anti-war sentiments that surrounded Vietnam, which so greatly impacted Neil, but some of my earliest memories of school are also the result of politics at the time. I remember having special drills during the cold war. Filing out into the hallways with my 5 or 6 year old classmates to line against the specially painted marks in the hall with our hands over our heads, or alarms sounding and getting under our desks in the same position. This is more geared to those readers who enjoy military history and strategy, with a new spin on how the machines of war are developed. I listened to this as an audiobook and that is definitely a regret. While it was well done in this format, I kept finding myself wanting to look up some of the specific things he mentioned, but laziness and desire to continue the story prevented this from actually occuring. I was particularly interested in the around the end of WWII and Cold War era. Other areas that were less modern or were just less interesting to me in general it would have been nice to skim instead of slogging through for fear of missing something due to media choice. I plan on purchasing the ebook and rereading the sections that were most interesting to me (mainly for the potential references to other source material).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Van Parys

    I enjoyed this book and I'm still confused as to why the title is "The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military" when it was more like "Space and the Military." Overall, I can see the relationship, but specifically, I mostly didn't see the relationship because it felt like astrophysics itself was barely explained. However, I am not an astrophysicist and possess a bare minimum of scientific knowledge and in all honesty I'm operating at about 3% of the brain capacity of Neil deGrass I enjoyed this book and I'm still confused as to why the title is "The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military" when it was more like "Space and the Military." Overall, I can see the relationship, but specifically, I mostly didn't see the relationship because it felt like astrophysics itself was barely explained. However, I am not an astrophysicist and possess a bare minimum of scientific knowledge and in all honesty I'm operating at about 3% of the brain capacity of Neil deGrasse Tyson, so ... Otherwise, this was an interesting book, and timely, considering it was released hot on the heels of the whole Space Force farce. However, after reading this book (and before reading it also), I'm not convinced Space Force is a bad idea, per se, it just seems more like a bloated bid for Trump American Superiority rather than a legitimate and respectable enterprise under our current president. The creation of an American Space Force would have to proceed with a sensitivity that Trump simply cannot muster. As dependent as we are on space (all that stuff floating around up there is important), there needs to be some sort of protection. But to what extent should that protection extend? Should we strive for a peaceful, cooperative space or defensive space? It's hard to say since we--as citizens of Earth and also its countries--rely so heavily societally and militarily on our space assets. Accessory to War doesn't provide the answers to militarized space, but it does offer a lot of thoughts, ideas, and repercussions to digest.

  7. 3 out of 5

    Cathy Hodge

    Wow, text-book level amount of history about scientific innovations and military advancements. Space, data, and the new "High-ground." I liked how this book had global information and did NOT just focus on American history and American scientific research. It was a bit like learning how sausage is made...… not pleasant to see the political machine at work... but necessary to get the research off the ground. What will be next on the great frontier?

  8. 3 out of 5

    Roger Smitter

    This book needs to be read by every congressperson and their advisors as well as every college faculty member. At the same time, every college/university physicist should read explain this book to every social science and humanities faculty member. deGrasse Tyson challenges us — in a very accessible way — to understand how humans have made war increasingly dangerous not just for the combatants but also the rest of us. He tells us how war has also been connected to the tools of physics. He doesn’ This book needs to be read by every congressperson and their advisors as well as every college faculty member. At the same time, every college/university physicist should read explain this book to every social science and humanities faculty member. deGrasse Tyson challenges us — in a very accessible way — to understand how humans have made war increasingly dangerous not just for the combatants but also the rest of us. He tells us how war has also been connected to the tools of physics. He doesn’t preach. He simply reminds us that war and physics have been connected for centuries. In the Prologue, the author challenges the theme that physicists do much more than simply make a weapon. He challenges all of us to be aware of the power of physics. Early in the book, he challenges the assumption that history must be destiny. He reminds us of what President Eisenhower warning about the “military-industrial” complex. He also takes us back in history—all he way back to the Romans and the use of tools of war that were created based on what humans knew about physics. His theme tis that the physics is always getting more powerful. The discoveries of physics led to more dangerous wars. About one-third of the way through the book, the author pulls out the often used phrase about the use of science: “What separates great scientists from ordinary scientists is not the capacity to answer the right question. It’s the capacity to ask the right question....”. P. 166. It’s clear that deGrasse Tyson is convinced that physicists must be aware of what their discoveries can do to humanity and the planet. After some more history he reminds us of the famous dictums concerning the nature of war: it is the continuation of policy by other means.” What is most powerful about the book is that the author takes another step: that “war and weapons can also be considered as problems of physics.” P. 240.

  9. 3 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Armies and Navies and militaries, in general, have depended on science for most of history. Astronomy is no exception. The symbiosis between Astronomy comes in the form of navigation technologies and sensing and detection. Be it navigating by the stars, using a telescope to survey a landscape on the grounds or the heavens, or using light unseen by ordinary eyes to peer into the skies or detect a foe. Tyson goes over the many intersections between astronomy and warfare. Goes to show that almost a Armies and Navies and militaries, in general, have depended on science for most of history. Astronomy is no exception. The symbiosis between Astronomy comes in the form of navigation technologies and sensing and detection. Be it navigating by the stars, using a telescope to survey a landscape on the grounds or the heavens, or using light unseen by ordinary eyes to peer into the skies or detect a foe. Tyson goes over the many intersections between astronomy and warfare. Goes to show that almost anything is dual use in this world.

  10. 3 out of 5

    Angie

    This is fantastic look at the history of astrophysics and its intersection with warming, much more thorough and well-sourced than most of Dr. Tyson's writing. It's aimed at an audience that wants to get into the weeds, so not those in a hurry. The first few chapters were interesting, but mostly in the realm of things I had heard before. The message came across as: "Psst, some technologies developed for war are also useful in science and vice versa". Not exactly earth-shattering. The technologies This is fantastic look at the history of astrophysics and its intersection with warming, much more thorough and well-sourced than most of Dr. Tyson's writing. It's aimed at an audience that wants to get into the weeds, so not those in a hurry. The first few chapters were interesting, but mostly in the realm of things I had heard before. The message came across as: "Psst, some technologies developed for war are also useful in science and vice versa". Not exactly earth-shattering. The technologies are telescopes/optics, navigation aids and calendars, and development of technologies using the electromagnetic spectrum. It gives context to the discussion but isn't worth a book in and of itself. The second half of the book is much more eye-opening. From a detailed look at 20th century technology (the world wars) to present-day issues, it examines the space force we have, its tasks and background, and how the line between military and civilian work is very thin indeed. There are places where I can feel the authors pushing a thesis about how astrophysical work benefits civilization as a whole and national security in general. There is an aspect of addressing some scientists disdain of human space exploration (you can do so much more science on a lower budget with robots) and arguing that humans in space benefits science as a whole. There are warnings about the dangers, as yet unrealized but not unimaginable, of space-based warfare. There are reviews of the space programs of Russia and China, as well as our allies in Europe and elsewhere, and a case for collaboration in science leading to peace in politics. This book is roomy enough for several large messages. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of science (specifically physics) and will recommend this to my students. To borrow a phrase from another book from a few years ago, this could be called Astrophysics for Future Presidents. Or maybe So You Think You Can Space Force. There are a few faults. A few of the chapters get very weedy and lose the conversational tone that the book begins and ends with. He tries valiantly to separate astrophysicists and physicists, treating them as from entirely different fields with entirely different motivations and foci, and I have trouble buying that -- it comes off as a little strange. But it's a great read and I'll be recommending it for a long time. I got a copy to review from the publisher through Edelweiss.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ben Vogel

    More promising in the title than the content delivered. I heard Dr. Tyson talking about his book on Joe Rogan's podcast and decided to read the book. Unfortunately NdGT was more entertaining and informative in those 2 hours of interview than in this book, which focused more on geopolitics than it did on the connections between science, military, and astrophysics. More like an infield hit off the dirt than the double off the wall that I was hoping for.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Munro

    Needs to be organized a bit better. Too much chronological jumping around. Otherwise an interesting read.

  13. 3 out of 5

    Alden

    I mean, it was fun reading, and I’m quite sure I learned a lot. But, science and ‘warfighting’ (apparently, this is a word now) feed off each other? Not exactly a revelation. The best thing about this book was imagining Neil’s voice, sharing it in 5-minute chunks on ‘Startalk.’

  14. 3 out of 5

    Anna

    I found this book fascinating! I especially liked the parts towards the beginning that went into the evolution of certain game-changing technologies (such as telescopes). If you have any interest in the history of technology and science, or in the politics of space, you should definitely pick this book up!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    While many will already be familiar with the ties between biology, chemistry, and particle physics and their regrettable uses in military hardware, less explored has been the tie between astronomers/astrophysics and their history with governmental agencies and the military industrial complex. This large work from Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang is an in-depth exploration of that connection, beginning before astronomy/astrophysics was even a discipline, starting with the earliest tools used to While many will already be familiar with the ties between biology, chemistry, and particle physics and their regrettable uses in military hardware, less explored has been the tie between astronomers/astrophysics and their history with governmental agencies and the military industrial complex. This large work from Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang is an in-depth exploration of that connection, beginning before astronomy/astrophysics was even a discipline, starting with the earliest tools used to probe the sky and their immediate application in the realm of war. While occasionally the narrative seems to focus a bit too much on particle physics (an area that has already been scrupulously documented in countless works) the final few chapters dealing with the politics of the international space station and the myriad agreements and ties between competing space programs we have at the current moment make for hugely informative reading. Through nearly 600 pages they guide you through the complicit understanding between scientists and military agencies that: "The universe is both the ultimate frontier and the highest of high grounds...Shared by both space scientists and space warriors, it’s a laboratory for one and a battlefield for the other."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Faisal X

    الفلكي المعروف بكتبه الجميلة وبساطة أسلوبه حتى يتسنى للشخص الغير المختص أن يستمتع بهذا العلم نقل لنا علاقة الفلكي بالحروب والالات الحربية بقصص واراء ونظريات وشرح هذه النظريات المساعدة في بناء الالة العسكرية وعلاقة علم الفلك والصناعة الفضائية بالحروب الحديثة بقصص يرويها عن نفسه وعن اصدقاء المجال نفسه في اجتماعاتهم ومدى تأثير هذه العلاقة على مستقبل أمريكا وأهمية العلم في بناء دولته

  17. 3 out of 5

    Mark Lawry

    I'm a huge admirer of Tyson so I really hate to report that this book is all over the place. Perhaps a better title would be What Scientists and Others Have Done to End War. He could have even added a few 100 pages on how scientific discoveries found in developing weapons have been converted to civilian applications to improve our lives. In fact, I'm sure just this book has been written many times by many people. Reading this you'll learn a lot about how sailors navigated by the stars over the c I'm a huge admirer of Tyson so I really hate to report that this book is all over the place. Perhaps a better title would be What Scientists and Others Have Done to End War. He could have even added a few 100 pages on how scientific discoveries found in developing weapons have been converted to civilian applications to improve our lives. In fact, I'm sure just this book has been written many times by many people. Reading this you'll learn a lot about how sailors navigated by the stars over the centuries, about endless weapons systems and their capabilities, and of the many international agreements to limit nuclear weapons. As Tyson himself says elsewhere science is science. GPS can be used to navigate a tank around the desert or your car around a city. The engineers that developed this technology can't be blamed for how it is used. That is for all of us and national policy makers to decide. Soldiers eat, are farmers therefore accessories to war?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie

    Good history of the topic Astrophysics and war. That's all there is to say; one feeds the other and vice versa. I was convinced after the first chapter.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Kramer

    This was a tough book to get through. It has too many acronyms and too much jargon; however, despite at times reading like dissertation, it contains some gems such as “Scientists’ urge to collaborate transcends religion, culture, and politics, because in space there is no religion, culture, or politics— only the receding boundary of our ignorance and the advancing frontier of our cosmic discovery.”

  20. 3 out of 5

    Marvin

    TMI

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lupine Smile

    Some interesting parts but far too long winded and not enough science for my taste. The book could not decide if it was a work on science or the philosophical reasoning for war. Never really found its footing.

  22. 3 out of 5

    Bill Zarges

    Very detailed discussion---more than one ever wanted to know. I prefer Dr. Tyson when he's more to the point. This book was like reading a dissertation.....

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gina Terada

    There were parts of this book I really enjoyed. Others were grueling slogs through 1000 military organizations abbreviated names. It’s a pity because the stories in this book are truly fascinating I just feel they could be told with a little more brevity than endless lists.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brian Mikołajczyk

    "Space exploration may pull in the talent, but war pays the bills." -Neil deGrasse Tyson Tyson surveys the history of various inventions (e.g. telescope, missile, compass, GPS, etc.) and pens the story of how the military influenced the advent of them. The history is interesting. He opens the book with an anecdote about his personal career in which he found out some of his work would be used towards a military purpose wanting to quit the post, however upon historical reflection, he realized this "Space exploration may pull in the talent, but war pays the bills." -Neil deGrasse Tyson Tyson surveys the history of various inventions (e.g. telescope, missile, compass, GPS, etc.) and pens the story of how the military influenced the advent of them. The history is interesting. He opens the book with an anecdote about his personal career in which he found out some of his work would be used towards a military purpose wanting to quit the post, however upon historical reflection, he realized this has been happening all along. Something I would have liked to see is his opinion on how we can decouple the military-industrial complex rather than wholeheartedly supporting it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lance Johnson

    I was incredibly disappointed by this book, and while some parts of it could be called ‘decent’ it was not what it was advertised to be. I picked this book up primarily due to it having Neil deGrasse Tyson’s name on the cover, having enjoyed most of his other books previously, but also due to my interest in the book’s topic. The book mostly lacked Tyson’s typical optimistic wonder nor did it stick to the topic on the cover. I got the feeling that this book never quite figured out what it wanted I was incredibly disappointed by this book, and while some parts of it could be called ‘decent’ it was not what it was advertised to be. I picked this book up primarily due to it having Neil deGrasse Tyson’s name on the cover, having enjoyed most of his other books previously, but also due to my interest in the book’s topic. The book mostly lacked Tyson’s typical optimistic wonder nor did it stick to the topic on the cover. I got the feeling that this book never quite figured out what it wanted to be. I honestly feel that some (if not most) of the blame for this must be lain on Tyson’s co-author Avis Lang, long-time editor but (from what I could tell) first time author. It is impossible to know how much each contributed to the book and to which parts, but I noticed a distinct difference in the style, tone, and subject matter between different sections of the book that leads me to believe that Tyson mainly contributed the opening chapters and a few other sections while leaving the bulk of the book to Lang. Some parts, the better parts, exhibit Tyson’s optimism and his contagious wonder at the marvels of the universe. These parts left me feeling passionate about space and science as Tyson’s work so often has in the past. These parts also related directly to the book’s topic, detailing past collaborations and how it led to the besting of various technical challenges. Better yet, the challenges are described in sufficient depth to explain the process, solution, impact, and underlying science. The interplay between science and the military, between peace and war, in a mature and nuanced manner which highlights the vast swaths of gray area which exist. Then there are the other sections that make up the bulk of the book. These chapters can’t seem to make up their mind on what they want to be, whether history of the military or opinion piece on contemporary US politics or an extensive analysis of official documents. The tone here is defeatist, pessimistic, and simplistic. Gone are the nuanced gray areas, replaced by absolute statements: this is good, that is bad, these are the good people, those are the bad people. The amount of detail is tedious rather than informative. Regardless of who wrote what, the fact remains that this book was all over the place. Some sections call for more military funding, others decry the funding as corrupt. Some advocate deterrence while others say deterrence is pointless. There are contradicting predictions and conflicting facts as well. One chapter predicts that space-based weaponry, rather than cyber weapons, will be the primary goal of military space funding over the next decades due to its efficacy and importance while the very next chapter comments how all funding will go towards cyber weapons since space-based weaponry doesn’t work and is largely irrelevant. Then there was Canada. Apparently, Canada was the third country to launch its own satellite, but according to the following page France was the third country and Canada was not even amongst the first five. Sometimes the book advocated for humanity to push further out into space, calling space science the greatest unifying force for humanity, and other times the book flatly seemed to declare ‘why bother, we are just going to muck it up anyways so let’s just not even waste our time on space and just stay home.’ This is not the Tyson I know. One of my favorite quotes by Isaac Asimov continually came to mind during this book: “If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.” There were portions of the book that were just too long. They provided too many, largely repetitive bits of information with minimal commentary and wading through them could charitably be called a slog. The first portion on telescopes comes readily to mind. Another is the chapter towards the middle which must have listed and described some 20+ UN resolutions and international treaties, many of them seemingly interchangeable. Each one received several paragraphs to a couple pages of space, complete with paragraph-length excerpts of legalese and listings of which countries were for and against each one, but lacking much commentary other than to say whether each treaty was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Even after finishing the chapter I could not have told you what differentiated each one from the rest of them or why they did or did not matter. The book needed less listing and more describing. Also, something I found fault with was the rather tangential way the book treated its main topic: the crossover between astrophysics and the military industrial complex. I wanted to see nuance and depth here. I wanted to learn about the technical challenges and the discoveries that overcame them. Mostly, I wanted to learn something new. I could count on one hand the number of times the book delivered up anything that I felt meaningfully explored the book’s topic in any depth. Most of the time, passages went something like this: astrophysicists use advanced optics to look at space, the military also uses advanced optics in spy satellites, therefore there is a collaboration. Well I could have told you that. Where are the technical details? Where is the narrative? Or, it would say, the military uses satellites to communicate and satellites go in space which is what astrophysicists study, and then it would get back to the history of the Gulf War or some such as if nothing had ever happened. The military uses technology and technology is advanced by scientific research. This is neither new nor is it unique to astrophysics. This is also not the rigor or depth I was expecting. I initially liked this book, but as I read further on my opinion soured due to the problems outlined above. I kept hoping it would improve yet it did not. I genuinely wanted to like this book but the truth is that this book is average at best and I would argue below average. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for me was in the last few pages when the book begins to describe a direct collaboration between nuclear weapons research and supernova research. I grew excited, as this seemed to be what I had hoped for from the book. Then, before offering more than a paragraphs worth of description, the book recommended that if the reader is interested in the topic, they should search for it to find out more. As it happens, I am interested. That’s the reason I bought the book, to learn more about the topic not to be told to go google it because the book couldn’t be bothered to explain it. And then it ended. That was it. That was how the book ended, imploring the reader to google examples of the book’s premise because, apparently, they weren’t worth the space to include in the book itself. Perhaps that is the best advice in the book: if you are interested in the topic, don’t read the book. Just google it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    There is something frustrating about the organization of this book. It's packed with excellent scholarship and research, and many of the sections I thoroughly enjoyed...but only in isolation. Together they simply don't seem to cohere comfortably: a history of scientific advances, a section on nuclear weapons history, and then a final section that features an attempt to tie everything together. It's a useful, productive read...but in the end, not as enjoyable and relaxing an experience as I thoug There is something frustrating about the organization of this book. It's packed with excellent scholarship and research, and many of the sections I thoroughly enjoyed...but only in isolation. Together they simply don't seem to cohere comfortably: a history of scientific advances, a section on nuclear weapons history, and then a final section that features an attempt to tie everything together. It's a useful, productive read...but in the end, not as enjoyable and relaxing an experience as I thought it would be.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Russ Szelag

    I was very disappointed with this. It reads like a term paper. I doubt that Tyson wrote much of this. The authors fill numerous pages with mundane information, such as how spyglasses were useful in the 18th and 19th centuries.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ashley W.

    it was a good book

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ollie

    I know I’m not the only one who holds Neil DeGrasse Tyson in high regard. Even though he’s the most visible proponent for science these days (move over Dawkins and Nye), the man has been met with criticism. Most of them stem from people who, honestly, don’t like their bubble being burst. But they do live in a bubble, and they should know not to shoot the messenger. Criticize NDT all you want for how nerdy he is and how dumb his astrophysics vests are, but the man has a wealth of knowledge floati I know I’m not the only one who holds Neil DeGrasse Tyson in high regard. Even though he’s the most visible proponent for science these days (move over Dawkins and Nye), the man has been met with criticism. Most of them stem from people who, honestly, don’t like their bubble being burst. But they do live in a bubble, and they should know not to shoot the messenger. Criticize NDT all you want for how nerdy he is and how dumb his astrophysics vests are, but the man has a wealth of knowledge floating around in his head, and he’s not afraid to share it, no matter how much some people might not want him to. It’s too easy to fall into the romantic habit of fetishizing the magical and unknown, but what NDT is vilified for is for explaining to us that these things we find mysterious and magical, actually are well understood by science. I guess people would prefer to live in their fantasy world. And why wouldn’t they? We live in a time where feelings are more important than facts. But, NDT fights the good fight and is there to make the dark world we live in just that much more brighter. For that, I admire the man. It’s for this reason that I find his latest book Accessories to War (cowritten with Avis Lang) such a disappointment. Instead of sticking to just science and society, Accessories to War tries to tell the story of how science and the military have played a role in each other’s developments. The society that had the most advanced science in their military tech were the victors, and as long as science could provide that, it would be in a government’s best interest to fund the science so that it would become more powerful. Sounds interesting, but what Accessories to War boils down to is mostly talk about light, telescopes, and astrology. And if that’s all you’re going to talk about, you’re going to lose your readers pretty quickly. And it’s such a bummer because NDT is definitely the person who can take the seemingly mundane and make it exciting. Instead, this book is insistent on dwelling on topics and science that are just plain boring. Not to mention the endless organizations and programs and all their acronyms and everything that they were supposed to do. I just gave up on them. NDT’s big picture perspective is also a bit of a let-down. Science and the military might have played a role in each other’s development, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The way we get better science shouldn’t be just by causing death and destruction. He claims that there’s been huge advancements in science when the government steps in and pumps a bunch of money into a tech it’s interested in, but no mention how these should all be publicly owned since they are all tax-payer funded. Also, I know this book deals with astrophysics but the opportunities that we missed by neglecting medicine and earthly problems by focusing on space is downplayed quite a bit. I don’t quite buy that landing on the moon was such a great idea considering how much it cost and the challenges we have here on earth. I still love the man. I’m still interested in what he has to say. This book just left me flummoxed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kend

    No lengthy review for me here, given that others have already done the heavy lifting, but I'll just say: this is NDGT at his most serious, or at least the most serious in voice I've ever read him. The book is perhaps even a tough too earnest for the "looking for light creative nonfiction reads!" amateur astronomer, but it's perfectly suited to our times, and timely in its response to what many will see as government overreach in the private and public space sectors. NDGT doesn't shy from calling No lengthy review for me here, given that others have already done the heavy lifting, but I'll just say: this is NDGT at his most serious, or at least the most serious in voice I've ever read him. The book is perhaps even a tough too earnest for the "looking for light creative nonfiction reads!" amateur astronomer, but it's perfectly suited to our times, and timely in its response to what many will see as government overreach in the private and public space sectors. NDGT doesn't shy from calling out the Powers That Be on their hijinks, but he also makes one point abundantly clear: the connection between astrophysics (and its predecessors, general astronomy and even astrology) and the government, including Big Government, is as old as recorded time itself. If you are as upset as I am at the prospect of a Space Force helmed by, well, the people it's likely to be helmed by, then this book will go a long way towards contextualizing the whys and wherefores and what the actual f—cks. A worthy addition to anyone's library, this is about as readable as a deeply political, heavily researched, and densely packed work of nonfiction can be. Also great for those who are ready for Ultra-Serious Neil deGrasse Tyson. He moves from thinly veiled criticisms of historical powers to not-even-remotely-veiled assessments of the current Powers That Be, and it's woke as hell. I am here. for. that!

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