Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Disordered Cosmos is probably the best book I have read all year. The book starts focusing on cosmology and particle physics giving a broad background. Then it evolves into being a focused discussion on the author’s primary focus of research, one area being Dark Matter. In this way, it works well as a science book. She gives a good background of the science in a way that I think really helps get the reader interested in what it is she does and the cosmos. This is common in science writings, especially in cosmology. I found her writing as good as, if not better than, many people who write popular cosmology books. I have noticed some reviewers complain because they find this section difficult to get through, but I would urge you not to be turned away because of this. There seems to be this assumption that if you can’t understand everything in a book then it isn’t worth reading. Well, I’ll tell you a little secret: no one understands moderately advanced topics in science their first time exposed to it. It takes time, and part of that process means being willing to get confused. You’re likely to still leave this big with a better appreciation for the science than when you started. If you’re interested in pursuing it further, then you can, and if not, that’s okay too. This is still meant for the average reader.
I think what really makes this book shine is when it transitions into being a larger conversation about race in science. She starts with discussion about the science of blackness, for example focus on melanin. She uses ideas in space physics to study blackness to give a new perspective on what it means to be black. The decision to do this is both fascinating and an effective transition from the cosmological discussion to the broad sociological discussions she has in the book. She goes on to discuss life as a scientist. She explores what it means to be a scientist, especially for her as a queer agender black Jewish fem scientist. In doing so, she explores how discrimination and racism has integrated itself into the institutions of science and the process of science itself. Then she goes on to talk about the ways in which it needs to be improved. One of the major ideas she explores is on the interconnectedness of everything. As a physicist, she is able to take this to a quantum level, but it extends far beyond that. Everything we do in science is influenced by the society we live in, including the colonial and racist mindsets within said society. If we do not acknowledge how we interact with our science, then we will continue to do flawed science. Part of that means ostracizing other voices and leading to the low level of scientists who are black or who challenge the traditional gender binary.
For those who are interested, there was a recent(ish) paper specifically on this topic in AGU Publications titled, “Double jeopardy in Astronomy and planetary science: women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment,” Clancy et al., 2017. This discusses just how prominent an issue this is within our (the planetary science and astronomy) community. Furthermore, if you are interested in exploring more books on science, gender, and race, I would direct you to the list of books Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein says inspired her in the writing of her book.
Now I could go on and on about this book, but I think really the best bet for you is just to pick it up and read it. I recommend it for everyone. While it may be someone esoteric in its science, I think you are seriously depriving yourself if you do not give it a shot. If you decide to pass on it because of the science, you would also be missing out on more nuanced conversation about science, representation, and the black experience in science. Read this book!