As the subtitle of his debut work of nonfiction suggests, Dr. Greg Brennecka is a scientist with a sense of humor and a flair for making complex topics both understandable and entertaining. In Impact: How Rocks From Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong, he makes the case that what connects the solar system, humanity, life on Earth and, last but not least, Donkey Kong, is meteorites.
Brennecka is a meteoriticist and a cosmochemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory whose research interests include the early solar system. Perhaps all cosmochemists learn early on to be good communicators, but Brennecka at least has taken great pains to organize and write Impact with general readers in mind. He begins at the beginning, with explanations of what meteorites are and why scientists study them, and then he proceeds to trace the history of meteorite hits on Earth, including the impact (excuse the pun) of a meteorite called Theia that triggered the formation of the moon.
Brennecka also covers the history of the scientific understanding of meteorites, arguing that modern meteoritics crosses many disciplines, including astronomy, geology and chemistry, and that studying these rock samples are invaluable to scientific inquiry. But it’s not just science at stake. Solar events, such as the appearance of comets, also have cultural and historical significance. For example, William the Conqueror and Genghis Khan took the appearance of Halley’s comet as a cosmic sign in support of their military endeavors.
While the scope of Impact is impressive and far-reaching, Brennecka’s clear, succinct narrative style makes for fascinating reading throughout. His lighthearted approach extends to the illustrations, which include diagrams, cartoons and photos. For instance, in a discussion of the role that solar events have played in shaping human history, one photo of a solar eclipse is captioned: “Solar eclipse. Time to freak out.”
While Brennecka is writing for an adult audience, Impact will also appeal to teenagers who love space and science. As the author makes clear in his closing section, the study of meteorites takes a village, requiring researchers—and perhaps future researchers—from many fields. There is still much to be discovered about these rocks that fall out of the sky, and Impact will make even space novices feel eager for those discoveries to be made.