STARRED REVIEW
September 11, 2018

An uneasy look at the future of battle

By Avis Lang & Neil DeGrasse Tyson

There seems to be no scientific advancement—regardless of how pure and benign its origin—that doesn’t wind up in military use. And vice versa. That’s basically the theme that ties together Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang’s Accessory to War, an engaging and well-documented survey of the instruments and organizations that have led human civilization into its current battle for supremacy in space.

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There seems to be no scientific advancement—regardless of how pure and benign its origin—that doesn’t wind up in military use. And vice versa. That’s basically the theme that ties together Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang’s Accessory to War, an engaging and well-documented survey of the instruments and organizations that have led human civilization into its current battle for supremacy in space.

Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and ubiquitous explainer of all things cosmic, clearly wishes that war would go away and that space would become a wellspring of common benefit. But he is far too much a rationalist to confuse wishes with reality. He concedes that, to the military mind, space is the ultimate “high ground” that confers battlefield advantage. That being said, military spending on communications, travel and weapon systems does lead routinely to peaceful civilian applications. Think of where we’d be without the constant data that flows from the same satellites that made America’s invasion of Iraq so effective and devastating.

Although space is the ultimate focus of this book, Tyson and Lang, his longtime researcher and editor, first take the reader on a tour through history with chapters on early celestial discoveries, the development of ocean navigation, refinements of the telescope and advancements in communications. These accounts are accompanied by chronicles of what was going on concurrently in the world.

With a worried eye on the catastrophic consequences of space war, Tyson proposes a more pleasing alternative: “[A]strophysics, a historical handmaiden to human conflict, now offers a way to redirect our species’ urge to kill into collaborative urges to explore, to uncover alien civilizations, to link Earth to the rest of the cosmos . . . and protect our home planet until the Sun’s furnace burns itself out five billion years hence.” And why not?

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Accessory to War

Accessory to War

By Avis Lang & Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Norton
ISBN 9780393064445

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