The quirky title drew me in, I admit and I expected something a bit light-hearted but informative and that’s what it is… mostly. This is one of the most comprehensive books I have ever read on the history of the meteorite. Most astrophysics and astronomy books deal with some of the bigger ideas that most people are interested in and rarely deal with something so specific. Meteorites are rarely dealt with except in terms of “they’re gonna kill us allllll!!!!” This books sets out to correct some of the myths and in that it largely succeeds.
Starting with a basic run down of what past societies thought about meteorites and meteorites (particularly with regard to them being portents of upcoming events), Nield looks at not just superstition, but also where those past societies thought they came from, especially in view of a lack of understanding of astronomy. It’s fascinating to see it laid out bare and there are some amusing statistics on your chances of being hit and killed by an asteroid despite that we are hit with them almost every day.
Nield covers a lot of bases here – from popular stories, sensationalist media, big ideas in science and how meteorites have been subject to such furious debate on a whole range of issues. Of particular interest is the ongoing debate (which will probably never be solved) is “What Killed the Dinosaurs”. Though interestingly the author expresses his exasperation with this because the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs also killed a lot of other life. He compared it to future researchers looking at a hypothetical event wiping out California and asking “what killed all the actors?”
He also looks at the asteroid belt, dispelling the myth that it is a densely packed belt of rock something like Han Solo’s escape in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s nothing like that, you could easily pass through it without seeing a single fragment of rock. He does go off on tangents – too many in my personal opinion – especially into the geological scale of the Earth. For such a short book (the Kindle version finishes at 71% with the rest making up extra reading, notes, glossary and index), he largely keeps to subject.
He discusses some of the key thinkers in driving our understanding of meteorites and of course, some of the most important sites in the world for asteroid study – not just the big ones thought to be responsible for extinctions, but also the smaller and lesser ones that have driven our understanding forwards.
This is primarily a book for the mass market so do not expect anything too intense or earth-shattering. The title suggests an attempt to dispel the myths of public perception and media when it comes to meteorites and how they may have shaped the world around us. In that, it largely does a great job. However, I do feel it could have been more engaging – it’s too dry at times; a bit more humour and a slightly more light-hearted tone to live up to the title would not have gone amiss.