Letters from an Astrophysicist

Do you ever wonder what kinds of letters a famous person gets? Do you ever wonder what kinds of responses they give?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson provides a little snapshot into the celebrity mail world in his latest book, Letters from an Astrophysicist.

The book is broken up by themes, covering topics ranging from UFOs to parenting, faith and belief to life and death, and hate mail. It also includes some more editorial pieces by Tyson reflecting on events such as earning his PhD and witnessing 9/11. The book contains a selection of letters received (for some longer letters, a synopsis is provided instead of the full text) along with Tyson’s response.

In addition to a snapshot at the kinds of questions people ask him, it also provides a snapshot into who he is. Tyson’s responses are honest, if a little sassy at times, and challenge the writers to think critically. Though he shares his opinions and knowledge, he does not tell people what to think or believe.

Writing this kind of book, I think, can be a vulnerable move. People can easily read through the letters and responses and find something to attack–Tyson’s lack of religion, his blunt responses to some questions, his skepticism. But sharing unedited responses to honest questions by fans (or at least only mildly edited; if you were really trying to present yourself as something other than you are, you could certainly change a few things) brings a degree of humanity to someone who could easily seem to be simply an unattainable celebrity figure.

Full of wit and enough sass to make me smile, I enjoyed reading this sampling of Tyson’s mail. And some of the questions and answers were thought provoking.

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