Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
March 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Megan Watzke
Kimberly Arcand
Total Pages: 
Black Dog & Leventhal

Kimberly Arcand is the visualization lead for the NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, specializing in image and measurement research. Megan Watzke is press officer for Chandra, specializing in communicating astronomy with the public.

I have the hardcover edition, but it’s ‘Look inside’ option uses the Kindle website, so I give it here:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

The home page has a brief summary, click on ‘Read more.’ The Top Customer Review (by TP Rhode Island) gives another way to consider this large (9.5 x 0.9 x 11 inches) book. With the book laid open, its width is 19 inches (so almost as wide as my PC screen). The 2-pp Contents gives an Introduction that need not be read by scientists, engineers, or tech persons – for whom the seven sections are well known. The Kindle preview ends with the 1-p Acknowledgments.

This book’s special feature is the use of a sidebar whose heading is COMPARE. As an example I give here the compares in the AREA section (pp 16-21) that has ten topics – thus nine compares. To visualize these pages, each of the ten topics has a picture of an object, below which is a line of powers of ten. And below this line is the name of the topic with a very brief (but adequate) description of the thing and its size. The sizes increase from left to right, and a topic’s number is shown on the line of area sizes.

• Topic 1 is an Adult’s Mature Blood Cell.

• Topic 2 is a tennis ball. COMPARE: “The area of a tennis ball is about 100 million times that of a human red blood cell.”

• Topic 3 is Today’s McMansions, with an average size of 2,679 square feet. COMPARE: “The average floor space in a new American home is 20,000 times greater than the surface of a tennis ball.

• Topic 4 is the National Mall. COMPARE: “The National Mall in Washington, D.C. has an area some 2000 times greater than the typical McMansion.

• Topic 5 is Honey Mushroom [which covers about 2,385 acres]. COMPARE: “The largest known land organism on Earth, the honey mushroom, has an area 16 times greater than the National Mall.”

• Topic 6 is Small Countries. COMPARE: “The ten smallest countries in the world cover an area about 200 times that of the honey mushroom.”

• Topic 7 is Grand Canyon. COMPARE: “The Grand Canyon in Arizona has almost triple the area of the ten smallest countries taken together.”

• Topic 8 is Farmland. COMPARE: “Land used for farmland on Earth is estimated to have an area about 10,000 times that of the Grand Canyon."

• Topic 9 is Our Solar system. COMPARE: “The planets and the Sun in the Solar System have a surface area about 100,000 times greater than all of the farmland on Earth.”

• Topic 10 is Supernova Blast Wave. COMPARE: “The debris from the exploded star Cassiopeia A covers an area 40 million billion times that of our Solar System.

I chose areas because I believe that most Americans have mental images of topics 2-7. Since the COMPAREs are always greater, never lesser, in this book, I found the concept of taking ratios of adjacent topics a lot more fun than simply giving their areas. I also found the authors’ choices of things to compare are often obvious and many of them were amusing to me.

I took me less than two hours to read this, but then I went back to select some that I knew would be of interest to my son. An example is the ten smallest countries. He and I had recently been looking at the areas of small countries in Europe and in the Mediterranean Sea.

I enjoyed this large (but not thick) book – an example of what used to be called a ‘coffee table’ book. I give it a rating of four stars.