My Favorite Universe

Course No. 158
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D.
Hayden Planetarium
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119 Reviews
71% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 158
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Course Overview

In My Favorite Universe, the astrophysicist who directs the nation's most famous planetarium takes you on a spirited and intellectually engaging journey through the cosmos and all its history, from before the Big Bang to the most likely ways in which Earth, and perhaps the entire universe, might end.

Clear Science Teaching to Set the Stage for an Awe-Inspiring Course

Created for a lay audience and readily accessible, in this course science always takes precedence over drama. The lectures are certainly entertaining, often funny, even awe-inspiring at times, as befits the subject matter.

Even though you will be entertained, you will be learning good science.

Clear introductions to essential principles of physics support these lectures, including density, quantum theory, gravity, and the General Theory of Relativity. Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson also includes forays into disciplines such as chemistry and biology as needed to explain events in astronomy.

For example, Dr. Tyson begins one lecture at a point 13 billion years ago, when all space, matter, and energy in the known universe were contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of a pinpoint—about the size of a single atom. By the time he finishes, the cosmos has been stretched, the planets and our Earth formed, and 70 percent of existing Earth species have been wiped out by a gigantic asteroidclearing the way for the evolution of humanity.

Along the way he has touched on Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2; on the four forces that were once unified in the early cosmos in a way physicists are still trying to explain; and on the chemical enrichment of the universe by exploding supernovae, which give the universe its necessary supply of heavier elements including oxygen, nitrogen, iron and, most important, carbon.

Carbon, we learn, is a "sticky" atom, capable of making more kinds of molecules than all other elements combined. It's the ideal element with which to experiment in the building of life forms and is, of course, the element responsible for the remarkable diversity of life, including us.

As Dr. Tyson notes, we are made of stardust, just as the planets are. And he has created a course that explains exactly how that came to be, beginning with a grounding in the basic "machinery" of matter, forces, and energy that has been discovered on Earth and which also reveals itself throughout the universe.

The Stark and Violent Beauty of the Universe

With this basic foundation in place, explanations of cosmic events fall logically into place, and the realities of the universe—including its eventual demise—are revealed in stark and often violent beauty. You learn:

  • how Saturn's rings were formed, and why they will eventually be lost
  • why low-density conditions are necessary to produce the drama of the northern and southern auroras
  • why even the most jagged and wild of the Earth's mountain ranges are, from a cosmic standpoint, really part of a perfectly smooth sphere
  • how black holes are formed and the extraordinary way in which they can wreak havoc in the universe
  • how asteroids moving through space represent threats of extraordinary consequence to Earth, no matter how long those threats may take to be realized
  • why the seemingly infinite panorama of celestial bodies revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope's famous "Deep Field" so intrigued astronomers
  • how astronomers actually look for new planets,
  • why the odds seem overwhelmingly in favor of some kind of life out there, whether we ever make contact or not.

Most important, none of these ideas are presented as isolated "space factoids" that serve no purpose but to entertain. They are there to illustrate and reinforce the key principles of physics and astrophysics that are continually being presented in this course.

But the inclusion of real science doesn't prevent Dr. Tyson from having some fun, either.

When it's time to show how a black hole might remove one from the universe, he leads you right up to the "event horizon" and slips you in—feet first. Since the event horizon represents the point within which nothing, not even light, can escape, you might think this is a bad idea. And you would be right.

But as you plummet toward the "singularity" at the heart of the black hole, you will learn firsthand about the interesting effects of gravity truly unleashed, including what physicists refer to, with a straight face, as "spaghettification." (Actually, Professor Tyson recommends that you be sucked in to a large black hole rather than a small one. You'll still be spaghettified, but it won't happen as quickly.)

But make no mistake: Dr. Tyson does not consider the cosmos a laughing matter, this kind of whimsical touch notwithstanding. In spite of his training, he remains, admittedly, still in awe of his subject. And he has created a course that might well produce the same feeling in you.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    On Being Round
    What forces tend to make objects round? And why is a sphere the most efficient shape an object can take? The answers will lead us across the cosmos. x
  • 2
    On Being Rarefied
    Just how "thin"—low in density—is the "thin air" out of which a magician produces a rabbit? And if the universe contains components that are even thinner, exactly what does that mean to us? x
  • 3
    On Being Dense
    This is a discussion of different levels of density and the inherent mysteries of this property, along with the ways in which an understanding of density helps us think creatively about the world. x
  • 4
    Death by Black Hole
    Take a look at black holes, one of the most fascinating topics in the universe—including the ways in which they would kill a human being, how they wreak havoc in the universe, and some provocative new research. x
  • 5
    Ends of the World
    Here is a detailed look at three scenarios for the destruction of our planet: the death of the Sun, the collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, and the heat death of the cosmos. x
  • 6
    Coming Attractions
    We now know that a deposit of energy sufficient to kill off 50 to 90 percent of all species strikes Earth every 100 million years. This lecture looks at our risks of getting hit by an asteroid and what we can do to avoid it. x
  • 7
    Onward to the Edge
    Take a break from the death and destruction of asteroids and the end of the universe and wonder, instead, at the enormity of the cosmos and what our place in it might be. x
  • 8
    In Defense of the Big Bang
    We now know without doubt how the universe began, how it evolved, and how it will end. This lecture explains and defends a "theory" far too often misunderstood. x
  • 9
    The Greatest Story Ever Told
    A synthesis of the greatest discoveries of physics, astrophysics, chemistry, and biology creates a coherent story of the birth and evolution of the cosmos. x
  • 10
    Forged in the Stars
    The origin of the elements that make up life is one of the most important discoveries in any field in the 20th century, yet underappreciated by the public because it happened over many decades. This lecture presents a step-by-step explanation of the long path to a Nobel Prize-winning idea. x
  • 11
    The Search for Planets
    Before 1995, the planets of our own solar system were the only ones we knew about; the total has now passed 100. This lecture discusses the tools and methods being used to find other planets that might be hospitable to human life. x
  • 12
    The Search for Life in the Universe
    This lecture examines the very real possibility that life exists elsewhere, and speculates about its origins and chemical makeup. x

Lecture Titles

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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Charts & diagrams
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Neil deGrasse Tyson

About Your Professor

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D.
Hayden Planetarium
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He is also a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the museum. Professor Tyson earned his undergraduate degree in Physics from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University. Dr. Tyson has written prolifically for the public, including a series...
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My Favorite Universe is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 119.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love the great courses I'm really enjoying the great courses. They have affordable courses for the cost conscious consumer. They offered a free journal with the purchase so I jumped on it.
Date published: 2018-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Superb but dated now Purchased quite some time ago but just re-viewed online. Superbly done but dated. Well past time for a 2nd edition.
Date published: 2018-08-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Needs a publishing date Some releases should have a date on them in such fields as astronomy, archeology, etc. I recently brought a DVD on astrophysics that was released in 2003. If Ihad known that I never would have bought many discoveries made since 2003. I will not buy any more without a date.
Date published: 2018-07-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from could be better Needs to be more scientific, it is more for grade school level.
Date published: 2018-03-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Doesn't fit in my brain Even though Dr. DiGrasse-Tyson is an iconic, brilliant man, I discovered that I still have to be truly interested in the subject matter, beyond his reputation. He has very clever examples to help grasp principles of speed, density, size, and distances in the universe but even this approach, directed at the average intellect, failed to capture my attention successfully.
Date published: 2018-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun for the whole family We have watched Dr. Tyson a number of times, including the "Cosmos" remake. We have also read several of his books. He is a wonderful teacher, always interesting and able to clearly explain his subject. There are things "out there" which are beyond our experience and at first blush make no sense, but Dr. Tyson helps make these things understandable. Unlike other courses we have taken, this early course shows the good doctor talking to people in the room rather than directly at the camera. Interesting, but not important in the enjoyment of the course. As a youngster, my science education was boring, and the goal seemed to be to memorize enough facts to pass standardized tests. In my old age I find science fascinating, especially as presented by Dr. Tyson. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2018-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating discussion Love it! Great discussion, supremely entertaining. The only weakness I've experienced is mediocre audio quality. Voice seems to get very quiet and suddenly very loud all at once.
Date published: 2018-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Oldie But A Goodie This course is getting a little dated, especially in the parts about planet hunting and the hunt for extraterrestrial life. That being said, the professor is an excellent communicator and does a very good job explaining some difficult topics. There is not really a particular order to this course. Instead, the professor picked twelve of his favorite topics and each became the basis for a lesson. I feel smarter after watching this and enjoyed the experience.
Date published: 2018-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super AstroPhysics Course Very very good course, I have gone through it 3 times, learned much each time. twice with Audio, then bought the Video.
Date published: 2017-12-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Standard Lecture I liked this course bt in almost every segment I went away with questions.
Date published: 2017-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun to watch Easy course to follow and interesting and yes, fun too!
Date published: 2017-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great introduction As a person who knew very little about the cosmos, this course gave me enough information to make me dangerous. It does leave me with a lot of questions. But, any good course should. After taking this course, I was equipped enough knowledge to have an intelligent conversation with other star gazers and also to enrich my understanding of how certain celestial bodies came to be.
Date published: 2017-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Went way past my college course! I was attracted to this course by the professor, who is so often now quoted as a voice of reason and science. Although it was produced back in 2003, it still covered physics/astrophysics far exceeding my college physics course in 1977 (mostly Newtonian physics, and "E=mc2" wasn't even mentioned as it was "too advanced"). This professor has a wonderful ablility to distill the complex math behind the discoveries in the universe into language that is very understandable (although admitedly as I am a physician I love the language of science anyhow). Even though this is an older course, there was still plenty of new material for me to learn. I rated the content a 4 only because of the age of the course.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to digest physics Neil deGrasse Tyson has long been a favourite lecturer of mine since watching 'Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey' and 'The Inexplicable Universe'. 'My Favourite Universe' is yet another great series of lectures. His knowledge and experience are impressive and the concepts are conveyed in simple, easily understood examples of everyday life. He manages to be funny and insightful, as well, with such a powerful topic. I walked away from these lectures with a better understanding of what we are and where we came from.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dated! I purchased My Favorite Universe (Neil deGrasse Tyson) about a month ago. And I was very disappointed to see the copyright date is 2003! If I had seen this in prepurchase material, I would not have purchased this. In a scientific field (especially astrophysics) there is just too much happening to be listening about material some 14 years old. Shame on The Great Courses!
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A relaxing learning experience! I found it very interesting and calming! I was waiting for a nova experience but it is another approach than film, however really educative !
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect title - balance of whimsy and scholarship Professor Tyson is wonderful. He is clear and easy to follow (no small feat, given the subject matter).
Date published: 2017-03-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Professor of Astro Physics. I bought this without reading any reviews here. I am glad I bought it before reading the less than great reviews. May have decided not to buy it. As I have only watched two lectures I cannot assess al twelve. The two I have watched were very good indeed. Knowledgeable man and talks in terms and concepts the general public (me) can understand. I like what he is saying and it has clarified some thoughts and misconceptions I had. I would recommend this course to anyone wanting a basic course on the cosmos. That said, I do wish he would stand still. He bounces around like a jumping bean on a hot stove. : ) As with most of the science courses I recommend a video version as there are several good pictures and such that you would miss with CD.
Date published: 2017-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Basic yet enjoyable Professor Tyson is always an enjoyable lecturer with an infectious style. The course content is at a elementary level, and appears to be designed to pique an interest to encourage continued studies of astrophysics and understanding this amazing universe. It also is showing its age (copyright 2003), and probably should be updated, both for new information and improved presentation format. Nevertheless, it is an easy watch, and you can simply get caught up in the enthusiasm displayed by Tyson. He is unafraid of giving straight opinions and definitive answers; backed up by the best facts available. His analogies are succinct and on point. Just do not expect a graduate level course on astrophysics. Listen to the course, allow yourself to become involved with the topic, sit back, let the lecture envelope you and have a good time. It will help you know why "it is always best to keep looking up".
Date published: 2016-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fully enjoyable Intense coverage of complex science presented in a manner that is fully enjoyable. Dr Tyson presents in a manner that teaches and entertains and makes you think - whether you want to or not. You realize after an enjoyable presentation that you have probably learned a great deal. His love for the topic is infectious.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't be better. This guy knows his stuff and knows how to present it. More, please.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The BEST Dr. Tyson is a wonderful teacher and his love of the topic is very evident. He made it interesting, easy to understand and his body language is the best! Thank you Dr. Tyson, looking forward to another one of your courses!
Date published: 2016-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This really is his favorite universe It is hard not to catch Dr. Tyson's fascination with the universe. Now I want to go back to some TTC courses I have on physics, and I started looking into physics classes at my local community college. Some of the concepts here are difficult, but he makes them accessible. He starts with some fairly basic concepts (roundness, being rarefieid, and being dense). These hearken back to some fairly basic concepts. For example, density is mass/volume. He provides familiar ideas like population density in Manhattan to help the listener understand the broader notion of density. Then he moves on to some "bad" stuff: "Death by Black Hole," the "End of the World," and "Coming Attractions." The first is obvious, but he does a great job of explaining where black holes come from and what they would do you if you ever got caught in one. Apparently, it would be a lot like being extruded by a pasta machine. He proposes three possible ends for the world, but first points out that when we think of "end of the world," we really mean the end of humanity, not the end of the world, per se. Some of the possibilities are familiar (the sun dying or the heat death of the universe). Others are not: collision of the Milky Way with other galaxies, like Andromeda. The details of what would happen if the sun dies, were surprising. It would grow to encompass Mercury, Venus, Earth, and so on. The "Coming Attractions" are collisions with meteorites. In "Onward to the Edge," Tyson takes us from the early pictures of the world from space in the 1960's, to the amazing images from the Hubble telescope. He discusses the politics of telescope time, and how what should be unproductive use of a telescope's time, just peering for days into a tiny portion of the sky with no immediately visible stars, can, in fact, provide deep insights into the stars. Then, he moves on to defend the Big Bang Theory, by first explaining what "theory" means in a scientific context. He then explains the evidence for the Big Bang. The physics can get a big daunting here, but he does a great job of making it all comprehensible. The "Greatest Story Ever Told" is about how everything came out of the Big Bang. Concepts like density are key here, and quantum theory is explained. Next is "Forged in the Stars," which explains how the stars created the elements that created life. There is discussion of protons and neutrons here, but it is well-explained. The final two lectures deal with searches: first for planets, then for life elsewhere in the universe. With billions of galaxies with billions of stars, there are an awful lot of planets out there. We can look for planets in contexts similar to our own that may be able to support life. He discusses how technology helps us to find these other planets. Finally, comes the question of life beyond earth. Dr. Tyson points out the we are rather anthrocentric in our approach to this. Most science fiction and movies have aliens who are human looking. Given the diversity of life in our own world, he thinks we should expect greater diversity in the cosmos. And, given the vastness of the universe and all those stars out there, it seems rather "egocentric to presume that we are alone in the cosmos." He gives some history about how man has always seen the earth as central. Throughout the lectures, he notes the scientists who have contributed to progress in physics and astrophysics. He also provides historical background that helps one better understand how developments came about. For example, a supernova in the 11th century was noted by the Chinese. He also notes the role that the Manhattan Project played in the development of 20th Century physics. Defense got the money, and science moved forward beyond the immediate defense needs. Or, how one development led to another. He also explains the the famous developments; such as quantum theory, in accessible ways. He also covers the role of technological development in allowing us to better understand the universe. Note: This is a very superficial overview of what the course covers. I will say that accessibility will probably be enhanced by getting the video rather than just the audio. His enthusiasm does come across in the audio, though.
Date published: 2016-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Favorite Universe This course was really good. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is very passionate about the subject matter, and it comes across in these lectures. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-07-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Totally useless Extremely boring. Terribly presented. Uninformative. I would not like to have this trash for free. Terrible. How anything like this could be sold? It's a pity that minus stars are not allowed. One star is definitely too much.
Date published: 2016-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Understandable basics of the universe There are a few things one needs to consider about this course. First, it is an older course (2003). Consequently, the advancements and discoveries that have been made in the last decade are not included. Nonetheless, since the course focuses on the basics of the material presented, it has valuable information. Second, The Great Courses have changed the presentation format over the years. I’m used to newer courses, where the presenter talks directly into (changing) cameras with the help of teleprompters. In this course, deGrasse Tyson still presents to a class of people (that cannot be seen in the camera), with the help of notes on his desk. So the presentation is not always as fluent as in newer lectures. And finally, and I quote, “The mission of the dozen lectures in My Favorite Universe is to pique your interest in some of the most fascinating and fundamental questions ever asked”. Just like in the recent TV series Cosmos, deGrasse Tyson’s goal is to educate people and make them more interested in the topic he presents. He does so by appealing to the majority of viewers, and I think the majority has only a very basic understanding of the universe. He describes the topics probably as simple as they can get without complicated equations and with adequate examples. This is a good and (thanks to deGrasse Tyson’s animated style of presentation) entertaining course for someone without much knowledge or someone who has just a very basic understanding of the topic. It suits different age categories, from children to adult learners. However, I do not think it will appeal much to anyone with advanced knowledge because the material is kept quite basic and I would take that into consideration before recommending the course to a friend. Also, as can be seen from various other reviews, while I like deGrasse Tyson’s way of presenting, which gets dramatic at times but also tries to keep the topic fun, it clearly does not appeal to everyone.
Date published: 2015-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview of the universe I listen to his lectures on plane trips ... completely lose track of time. Great job taking a very technical topic and analogizing/simplifying for those who are not astrophysicists!
Date published: 2015-02-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The real (basic) stuff Dr Tyson is very good at popularizing science, the scientific method and the vast field of astrophysics...we need more folks like him. He is a great speaker, albeit a bit overly dramatic in these lectures, speaking clearly and enthusiastically about a subject that he clearly knows and loves. In the video-downloaded version I watched (twice, actually) I was under-impressed with the level of instruction (middle school, home schooling level, especially if supplemented with better graphics), perhaps because it's a little old...the course notes were published in 2003, and no reference is older than 2002. Quite a bit of progress has been made in the field of astrophysics since then (and was this series released in 2008?). I can't really recommend this series to the older, more experienced student/person...maybe the updated (2012) Tyson lectures in 'The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries ' is a better choice...when it's on sale and you have a super coupon.
Date published: 2015-02-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Still Too Much Drama There was more interesting science in this course than in Tyson's other course. Unfortunately, the first lecture was good and it went downhill from there. If you know a reasonable amount of science, this course isn't for you. My kids watched the first lecture with me but were never interested in watching any more. But the overly dramatic presentation gets to be too much. Tyson has done a great job promoting science and scientific learning. But his histrionic lectures really turn me off. The Great Courses has lots of great science courses. This isn't one of them.
Date published: 2015-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Show Dr. Tyson's teaching manner is infectious. One can really see his love of the subject. His presentation kept me glued to the screen.. The subjects he selected were fascinating. He skipped 99% of the heavy math, but things still made sense. I made my girlfriend watch this, and she couldn't wait for the next chapters. I recommend anybody with just a little interest about the universe to see this.
Date published: 2014-12-12
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