This Ordinary Stardust

A Scientist's Path from Grief to Wonder


By Alan Townsend, PhD

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$38.00 CAD

"[A] remarkable account of a shifting consciousness” – Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“An extraordinary, powerful book” – David Quammen, author of The Heartbeat of the Wild and Breathless

A compassionate exploration of scientific wonder that offers “a fresh perspective on life, death, and the bittersweet consequences of impermanence,” (Jon Krakauer) as illuminated through the tragic dual cancer diagnoses of author Dr. Alan Townsend’s wife and daughter.

A decade ago, Dr. Alan Townsend’s family received two unthinkable, catastrophic diagnoses: his 4-year-old daughter and his brilliant scientist wife developed unrelated, life-threatening forms of brain cancer. As he witnessed his young daughter fight during the courageous final months of her mother’s life, Townsend – a lifelong scientist – was indelibly altered. He began to see scientific inquiry as more than a source of answers to a given problem, but also as a lifeboat: a lens on the world that could help him find peace with the painful realities he could not change. Through scientific wonder, he found ways to bring meaning to his darkest period. 

At a time when society’s relationship with science is increasingly polarized while threats to human life on earth continue to rise, Townsend offers a balanced, moving perspective on the common ground between science and religion through the spiritual fulfillment he found in his work. Awash in Townsend's electrifying and breathtaking prose, THIS ORDINARY STARDUST offers hope that life can carry on even in the face of near-certain annihilation.

  • "[A] remarkable account of a shifting consciousness that's likely to shift the reader's own." 
    Publisher's Weekly, starred review
  • "This is not a book that provides easy answers to life’s most difficult questions, but one that suggests plausible means of reconceiving our place within a relentlessly fluid universe. An insightful exploration of loss and the role of intellectual curiosity and spiritual openness in addressing it." 
  • "This Ordinary Stardust is a wondrous book that reduced me to tears and brought me a fresh perspective on life, death, and the bittersweet consequences of impermanence. It also happens to be a page turner I couldn’t put down."
    Jon Krakauer
  • "This is an extraordinary, powerful book full of science and suffering, spirit and love. It’s rare to encounter such a rich mix, and Alan Townsend’s steady voice makes it all work."
    David Quammen, author of The Heartbeat of the Wild and Breathless
  • “In sharing his own story through searing grief, Alan Townsend shows us — in a way that nobody else could — how scientists are first and foremost people, with hearts both delicate and resilient.”
    Hope Jahren, author of National Book Critic’s Circle Award-winning Lab Girl
  • "Watching his wife receiving a last-ditch experimental treatment for her brain cancer, Alan Townsend contemplates “the fusion of science and love.”  This pairing seems deeply oxymoronic…unless you actually know scientists for whom science and emotion are mutually sustaining.  This beautiful, powerful book tells how Townsend, amid unimaginable pain, finds solace in science – both for what it can explain and for what we know it never purports to."
    Robert Sapolsky, New York Times bestselling author of Behave
  • "Alan Townsend's This Ordinary Stardust is an immortal monument to one man's daughter and late wife as well as one scientist's impassioned hopes for humanity and the planet. A towering achievement."
    Jayson Greene, author of Once More We Saw Stars
  • "In his stunning new memoir, This Ordinary Stardust, Townsend shows all of us how he trailblazed a path from grief to wonder and in doing so helps us discover how we might do the same."
    Maria Shriver's Sunday Paper

On Sale
Jun 4, 2024
Page Count
272 pages

Alan Townsend, PhD

About the Author

Dr. Alan R. Townsend is a scientist, author, speaker, and dean of the University of Montana’s W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. He is a highly cited author of more than 140 scientific articles and has served in multiple prominent leadership roles. He was named an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow and a Google Science Communication Fellow and was one of six scientists chosen to be in the Let Science Speak documentary film series, which premiered at the Tribeca TV Festival in September of 2018. Alan lives in Missoula, Montana.

Learn more about this author