After listening to Alan Lightman’s recent book about cosmology, The Accidental Universe, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, I immediately requested and listened to another astronomy-related book narrated by Bronson Pinchot: Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System, by astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana. (Strange New Worlds is a 2014 release from Blackstone Audio of a 2011 book.) Although I listened to it right away and found it fascinating, I’m just getting around to writing the review now, several months later.
On the whole, Strange New Worlds is drier, less philosophical, and more technical than The Accidental Universe – not as accessible to humanists and English majors as The Accidental Universe is. (Author Alan Lightman writes literary fiction as well as being a renowned theoretical physicist.)
But even though Strange New Worlds goes pretty deep into the science and technology of looking for habitable planets or signs of life beyond our solar system, it is intended to provide an overview to the layperson. Having at least a basic scientific vocabulary would probably help, but audiobook narrator Bronson Pinchot reads complex passages so smoothly that they, at least, seem understandable. Most of the book is comprehensible to a reader with an average amount of Star Trek-watching under her belt.
In each chapter, readers meet various astronomers and astrophysicists whose work Jayawardhana describes and explains. I especially enjoyed hearing these mini bios of the people behind the science. (It looks as though the author also uses this writing technique in his 2013 book Neutrino Hunters, also available from Blackstone Audio and read by Bronson Pinchot.)
Bronson Pinchot’s excellent narration of The Accidental Universe is the main reason I requested Strange New Worlds, and his narration here is also excellent. If you’re looking for a educational audiobook and have any interest in the search for planets able to sustain life, Strange New Worlds could be a good choice. (No actual aliens make an appearance, so if that’s what you’re hoping for, you’ll have to stick to science fiction.)
Strange New Worlds shows readers the real research and work that’s going on, and demonstrates that the idea that there may be other planets capable of sustaining life somewhere out there isn’t crazy. Strange New Worlds isn’t as exciting or entertaining as an episode of Star Trek, but is a lot more believable.
Strange New Worlds
Jayawardhana, Ray (author)
Pinchot, Bronson (narrator)
Blackstone Audio, 2014