Who Is Neil deGrasse Tyson? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso

Who Is Neil deGrasse Tyson? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso. Penguin Workshop, 2021. 9780399544361

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Paperback

Genre: Biography

What did you like about the book? Neil deGrasse Tyson was a teenage prodigy who found his calling as an astrophysicist at the age of 9 after a visit to the Hayden Planetarium.  Tyson grew up in the 1960s, when space exploration was new, and eagerly watched the moon landing, which only further confirmed his resolve.  Tyson was a popular and charismatic student whose chattiness sometimes got him in trouble; his passion for the study of space influenced his work in all of his classes – he even built a Saturn-shaped lamp in shop class!  At the age of 14 he was invited to join the Explorers Club and was the youngest traveler on an exploration trip to Africa to watch an eclipse, along with the likes of Neil Armstrong and Isaac Asimov.

Tyson began teaching at age 15, giving a lecture on comets at an adult education center.

He attended Bronx High School for Science where he gained renown as a wrestler (using his knowledge of physics to his advantage!) and as the editor of a student science magazine.  He visited Cornell at the personal invitation of Cornell alumnus Carl Sagan,  but ended up at Harvard where he joined  the rowing, wrestling, and dance teams, and also began to understand his unique status as a Black scientist in the 1970s.  He attended graduate school at the University of Texas and Columbia and became determined to be a teacher.  He wanted to share his love of science and make it more understandable for lay people (in the mold of Sagan and other teachers he admired), and he also especially wanted to be an inspiration to young Black students with an interest in science.  He achieved these goals as a professor and an author, and eventually was named director of the Hayden Planetarium, where he still works today. Tyson now enjoys fame as a pop culture icon, as the host of several television programs, including an updated version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and the StarTalk podcast. He is also a popular social media presence, has appeared in a Superman comic book, and competed on Celebrity Family Feud. 

This comprehensive biography is interesting to read, and will provide a thorough resource for research projects. Biographies of living subjects can be risky; Tyson is portrayed as a role model and a well-liked public figure but the book does briefly mention recent charges of sexual harassment and assault (the investigation into which was inconclusive and did not result in any consequences for Tyson).  Standard Who Was… fact boxes cover such topics as climate change and Star Trek.  Timelines and a bibliography are appended.  

Anything you did not like about the book?  A few photographs would be an appealing addition – for a book about someone who is very much in the current public eye the illustrations seem so old-fashioned.  

To whom would you recommend this book? This is a great resource for an upper elementary biography project, and young scientists will enjoy reading about Tyson and how he turned his childhood passion into his career.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Biography

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: September 17, 2021

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