You can't argue with Neil deGrasse Tyson's appeal. The celebrity astrophysicist (and let's just take a moment to marvel at those two words) recently fronted Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a relaunch of the 1980s Carl Sagan science documentary miniseries, to massive success. The show reached more than 130 million people worldwide in its first run, and is presumably reaching millions more now that it's streaming on Netflix. Can you recall the last time you've seen whole armies of human beings around the world enraptured by science? In this time when one in four Americans doesn't believe in global warming, Tyson's popularity is something to be cheered.

Fresh off the success of Cosmos, Tyson is now taking a victory lap, embarking on a tour of the United States (he's at the Paramount Theatre on Sunday and Monday) and enjoying his newfound global celebrity. Four of his early books, too, have just gotten the deluxe treatment from W.W. Norton, seeing republication in a Cosmos-friendly trade dress. Originally published between 2004 and 2013, these books are likely next steps for people interested in expanding on the information that caught their attention in Cosmos, and they're also an opportunity to enjoy another dose of Tyson's personality.

As monuments to his charisma, the books are successful. Tyson's public persona—friendly, full of wonder, prone to dropping mind-blowing factoids into the conversation every few minutes to string along your interest—is thick in these pages. And his devotion to science is evident: Every few chapters, he rhapsodizes on the importance of NASA, say, or funding for scientific studies. But it's an unfortunate fact that the written Tyson simply doesn't measure up to some of the best science writing of our time.

Two of his books, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier ($16.95) and Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries ($15.95), are compilations of essays Tyson wrote for Natural History magazine, and while they're packed with information, they're also unsatisfying reading experiences: Factoids (like the fact that NASA picks up roughly half a penny from every tax dollar) get repeated to the point of eye-rolling. Repetition is always a danger in these sorts of compilations, but a capable editor would lessen their impact in book form. As it is, the effect is of a gifted and charming college professor who carelessly repeats the same anecdote to a class three times in a month.

Rather than plumbing those compilations for a starter course in astrophysics, I'd suggest that you go straight for Tyson's collaboration with Donald Goldsmith, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution ($19.95). Origins provides a basic structure (the birth and evolution of our entire universe) that keeps the sense of caroming from one subject to another at bay.

It's a crash course in cosmic history, introducing readers to the makeup of galaxies, stars, planets, and life while casually dropping facts that demand our attention: Did you know that our "sun loses material from its surface at a rate of 200 million tons per second," which is a rate that "happens to closely match the rate at which water flows through the Amazon Basin?" But when the authors aren't threading the text with toe-curling trivia, the text can get monotonous. The lack of art is palpable.

In terms of both education and entertainment, the most successful of these books is The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet ($15.95), a slender, heavily illustrated memoir that details Tyson's personal involvement in the demotion of Pluto from the ninth planet to one of hundreds of planetoids at the outer edge of the solar system. Tyson explains the history of Pluto and our fascination with it at the same time that he details how a New York Times story momentarily turned him into a national villain who finally killed the adorable Little Planet That Could. As a reader, I learned more from this book than from the other three combined: The strong narrative structure gave weight to Tyson's personal anecdotes, allowing the reader to pick up information about astronomy and the makeup of the solar system by example, and to see it in practice at the service of a story.

As a cheerleader for scientific thought, Tyson is unparalleled. As an educator, his writing leaves much to be desired. And there's nothing wrong with that, but hopefully some of those minds that have been awakened by Cosmos will turn to more gifted written communicators—like Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, or even Mary Roach, a general-interest science writer whose book about space travel, Packing for Mars, was a funnier and more informative guide to the nuts-and-bolts of space travel than Tyson's Space Chronicles—to further expand their horizons. Tyson is a perfect entry-level drug, but those in search of a book to help them relate the universe to their personal experience should be advised to seek out the stronger stuff. recommended