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Icarus at the Edge of Time by Brian Greene

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Icarus at the Edge of Time by Brian Greene

The cover of Icarus at the Edge of Time, a children's book by string theorist and author Brian Greene.

Knopf Publishing

The Bottom Line

This is a fun book for kids, although it's unclear to me exactly what age would be best to expose children to this book. The topics are clearly presented and readers don't need much in the way of background in any scientific knowledge to understand them.
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Pros

  • Beautifully illustrated with pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope
  • A clear story that illustrates many principles of relativity and black hole physics

Cons

  • Unclear what age range the book is actually intended for.
  • Large, beautiful images are obstructed by the picture of the black hole.

Description

  • hardback "board book"
  • 22 pages, containing 14 space images obtained from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (plus a picture of the Earth)
  • Written by string theorist Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe and Fabric of the Cosmos

Guide Review - Icarus at the Edge of Time by Brian Greene

Icarus at the Edge of Time is a futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, who - despite warnings from his father - flew too close to the sun with wings made of wax, which melted and doomed him to fall to the Earth.

In Greene's version of the tale, Icarus is a brilliant boy on an interstellar voyage. Destined to live and die aboard a spaceship traveling between the stars, he modifies a shuttle design and - despite warnings from his father - goes out to explore a black hole.

Unfortunately for young Icarus, Einstein's theory of relativity dictates what happens next. The curvature of spacetime near the black hole means that time for Icarus is different than the time outside, and when Icarus returns to his father, it is too late ... many years have passed for him.

The book succeeds brilliantly at its main objective: clearly demonstrating the relativity concepts related to a black hole in a language which is enjoyable to even a very young reader.

The book is written on a thick "board" type of material which I typically associate with an extremely young child's book, but the story is a bit more refined. There's no indication on the book what age it's really intended for. My three year old was unimpressed by the story or the pictures. Can't blame a dad for trying! I am guessing he'll be a bit more engaged in a few more years.

Another issue is that the book includes a black circle in the center of each page, representing the black hold. It gets larger as Icarus approaches it and smaller as he leaves. That's all well and good, but it obstructs some truly glorious space images! (The unobstructed images are presented, in a smaller thumbnail version, at the end of the book.)

The book is very enjoyable and for a child of the right age (whatever that is), it would be an excellent introduction to modern physics concepts.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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