Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell

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Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: James Donald
Reviewed by James Donald
Summary: A true popular science book that is packed with fun and interesting facts about space travel and the history of leaving the Earth. A lovely gift anyone interested in the Space Race.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471164057

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So… you want to leave the planet? Before you do you'd better study the whole history of human space flight to get up to speed. That could take a while… if only there was a handy guide that could condense it all down for you. Enter Dallas Campbell with this book: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet.

I love Dallas Campbell. He has a fantastic presenting style that I've enjoyed in the various shows that he has hosted and co-hosted over the years. I find his enthusiasm for science to be infectious and I admire the way that he rarely takes the route of dumbing down for an audience. I came to Ad Astra really hoping that it would be his presentation style in text form and I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed.

At first glance I thought that this was a bit of an encyclopaedic guide, one of those you dip into rather than read. Whilst it is true that it is essentially structured in vignettes this is still a popular science novel with a narrative. The individual scenes vary dramatically in structure depending upon the content of them which keeps the whole book fresh. In one moment we are learning about geese, then we've got a song score presented in full, then a flow chart and then a transcription of astronauts dealing with issues. All of this sits within the matrix of Campbell gradually telling the tale of space flight and the science behind it all.

The light and breezy style of the book did make me concerned that Campbell was going to gloss over some of the darker aspects of this history but I needn't have worried. Whilst the various deaths are not dwelt on they are addressed and as for Von Braun… I mentioned above that a song score was printed in full, it was to address this issue. Operation Paperclip is one of the most contentious and troubling aspects of the Space Race. Nazi scientists, some of whom carried out horrific acts in the war, repurposed by both sides to build ICBMs and rockets. To spend too long on the issues surrounding this would have hijacked and derailed Campbell's narrative. To avoid this issue would have done a serious disservice to history and those who suffered at the hands of these scientists. What Campbell does is the very neat trick of mentioning it, not passing judgement but neatly saying what he thinks of it all by reprinting Tom Lehrer's song on the subject.

It took me a while to work out who the target audience of this is. This book is for everyone interested in space flight. Anyone from the age of around 10 with an interest will love this. If you are scientifically literate and know a lot about the subject this book will still have enough stories you've not heard before to keep you hooked.

Very fun, very informative and very much a stocking filler for the science and space geek in your life.

Further reading check out Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Buy Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell at Amazon.com.


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