(For my complete review, please visit my blog: www.age30books.blogspot.com.)
In The Planets Sobel explains the creation of the universe by combining the Biblical Creation account in Genesis with the scientific theory of The Big Bang.* She then goes on to look at each planet in turn, showing how various cultures perceived them throughout time. This book is a amalgam of myths, science, religions, and masterful storytelling. I am again in awe of her writing.
This book is full of interesting facts that I may or may not have learned in high school science classes. Either way, the knowledge is new to me now. I drove my husband crazy as I read this book, because every few minutes I'd say "Wow!" or "That's amazing!" or "Hey honey, did you know ...". He wasn't thrilled. Here are some (very simplified) things I learned:
Sun: Since the sun is not solid, it spins at varying speeds (the equatorial region spins slower than the polar regions, etc.). This causes "solar winds" that can be extremely violent. NOW I understand all those Star Trek and Stargate episode where they used "solar sails" to travel through space!
Mercury: The MESSENGER space craft was launched in 2004 and just started reporting its findings this year. You can get updates on discoveries from MESSENGERS home page.
Venus: All the land formations on this planet are named for ancient goddesses or famous women except for one mountain range ... it was named after a man.
Mars: This chapter is told from the point of view of a Mars rock ... a fascinating perspective.
Jupiter: This planet radiates more heat out into the atmosphere than it receives from the sun.
In writing this post I found out that Dava Sobel has a wonderful website. If you take a look at it, you'll get a sense of who she is in her books. That elegance I mentioned is apparent in the design of her site; like the covers of her books, her website is quite lovely to look at. You can also listen to the author discuss this book on NPR.
PS. Is there anyone else out there who thinks that Tycho Brahe is a fantastic name? I just love to say it out loud: "Tycho Brahe". Lovely! (FYI, he's a Danish astronomer from the 1500s.)
* This is by no means a Biblically based look at our universe though. The author was going more for the poetry of the story and how it ties in with scientific theory.
This book is disappointing and seems like a pot-boiler compared to the same author's Longitude, which is absorbing. This seems superficial and random, don't know if I'll be able to finish it. Also its not strictly scientific and that tends to grate on some of us. Nicely produced volume, the cover will look good on your shelf.
Seeing me reading this book, someone asked what I thought of it. I found myself struggling to come up with an answer, but finally had to admit that I was not enthusiastic about The Planets. While the writing is beautiful, almost lyrical, the content is sadly lacking. It's a rather disjointed jumble of quoted poetry and random factoids, and I began to wonder if this wasn't material left over from research for her other books on longitude, Galileo, and Copernicus, given new life in a book of its own. This one was disappointing.