Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military
“Extraordinary.… A feast of history, an expert tour through thousands of years of war and conquest.” —Jennifer Carson, New York Times Book Review
In this far-reaching foray into the millennia-long relationship between science and military power, acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and co-author Avis Lang examine how the methods and tools of astrophysics have been enlisted in the service of war. Spanning early celestial navigation to satellite-enabled warfare, Accessory to War is a richly researched and provocative examination of the intersection of science, technology, industry, and power that will introduce Tyson’s millions of fans to yet another dimension of how the universe has shaped our lives and our world.
In this comprehensive history of astrophysics military collaboration, astrophysicist Tyson (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry) and researcher Lang explore how two causes use similar tools for different ends. Over the centuries, the authors write, scientists and warmakers "have more often been in sync than at odds." Sometimes they're sides of the same coin, as, for instance, "astrophotography and photoreconnaissance differ only in their choice of target." From the first telescopes to present-day satellites, the coevolution of science and war has frequently resulted in valuable inventions, like GPS, "whose value to the U.S. economy will soon be upwards of $100 billion" annually. Tyson's own experience of attending an astrophysics conference in 2003, and realizing how many of the companies present had also contributed to the Iraq invasion, further illustrates the book's point. While acknowledging how science has enabled war, as with the development of the atomic bomb, the authors argue astrophysics can also be a way to peace. Ventures such as mining asteroids for scarce resources, which could "erase a perennial rationale for war," are one possibility. But they caution that "weaponization arrives close on the heels of militarization" in space. Well paced and skillfully written, the narrative seamlessly integrates science lessons, military strategy, and world history surely suiting military and science buffs alike.