BooksOfTheMoon

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

By Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan

Rating: 5 stars

Pale Blue Dot starts with an expanded version of Sagan’s famous speech and then deconstructs any notion that the Earth, or the human species, has any privileged position in the cosmos. From the idea that the Earth is the centre of the universe to the idea that humans were created as its caretakers. In each chapter, Sagan starts with a well-defined thesis and then walks us through his thinking, never straying into technical arguments, but keeping that open, everyman approach that he was so well-known for.

He talks about the planets visited by the Voyagers before turning to the idea of human settlements on other worlds in our solar system. He discusses (and dismisses) a number of possible reasons for human space exploration and settlement, keeping his strongest arguments back for the final chapters. In these, he strongly argues that over geological time, there will be events that will shatter a civilisation based solely on a single planet, and, for the safety of our species, we need to migrate – not only to the rocky worlds, but to near earth asteroids and the Oort cloud – to small worlds that we could learn to move around, to avoid any collisions with the mother world, and, in the final chapter, he lets his imagination soar and imagines a human civilisation that spans the galaxy.

Sagan’s ideas, and the words in which he expresses them, are delightful and awe-inspiring. He rightly predicts the idea of robotic explorers of Mars sending back such detailed pictures that you could sit in your bedroom, and virtually travel over its surface. While I sometimes think he thinks better of our species than we deserve, maybe the events of the second half of the 2010s have just made me cynical. And if you want to read something completely lacking in cynicism, and brimming with hope and optimism then this is it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780345376596
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of publication: 1994

Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective

By Carl Sagan

Rating: 4 stars

Although nominal pop science, this certainly isn’t a primer for the general layman, since it seems to already assume a decent amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. It does provide, however, a very lucid description of the origins of the solar system, the development of life and its progression and wider place in the universe (at least as understood up to the early 1970s when it was written).

Our space probes are discussed, including the Pioneer probes which Sagan himself worked on — I hadn’t realised that there was such controversy over the plaques that were mounted on Pioneers 10 and 11 — and he describes how they were used to develop and test theories about the planets of the solar system.

Sagan isn’t afraid to speculate about the possibility of life on other worlds and the possible means of listening for them, and maybe even communicating with them. This willingness to delve into what a lot of scientists may consider unsavoury territory is part of what makes Sagan’s work so charming.

The only issue that I had with the book is its age. Some of his more optimistic predictions have already been proven wrong (like his suggestion of a permanent moonbase by now). I would love to read a contemporary piece that discusses the history of human spaceflight the way that Sagan has, but brings it up to date, charting all the successes and failures since Sagan’s day.

In total, a charming and well-written description of man and his relationship with the universe.

Book details

ISBN: 9780521783033
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year of publication: 1973

Cosmos

By Carl Sagan

Rating: 4 stars

This is a pop science book to go with Sagan’s TV series of the same name. The book is about 20 years old now and one of the things I did while reading it was to try and spot areas where it was outdated. But Sagan deals on such large scales and broad brush strokes that these areas were very few.

The book deals with the universe, its creation and history and how we fit into the cosmic picture, all in a very accessible way.

To be honest, I didn’t learn much from this book that I didn’t already know, but Sagan has a fantastic writing style which is almost poetic. The imagery is haunting and it’s difficult not to get carried along with his narrative. Highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9780375508325
Publisher: Random House
Year of publication: 1980

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