Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

May 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

cosmosCosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan


Cosmos is 38 years old this year. A lot has happened in astrophysics since 1980, enough so that I was somewhat concerned that parts of the book would be dated. They are, but the good thing is Sagan doesn’t write from a purely technological or scientific perspective in this book. For each concept he presents, he puts it into a historical and philosophical perspective to show not just how far we’ve come since the original scientific thinkers, but also how much alike we are with them.

Take, for instance, space travel. Sagan likens the modern-day scientists creating vessels to traverse the cosmos to people like Christopher Columbus, who weren’t content just to settle for what was immediately around them. They felt the need to travel, to explore, to send themselves into the unknown to find what was there, and how it might affect our own lives. Columbus’ legacy hasn’t aged well into more progressive times, but that desire to journey, to discover, existed then, and it exists now.

The entire book — all thirteen chapters of it — takes this approach. Like Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (in retrospect, I listened to these books out of order), the book avoids digging into a lot of math and instead focuses on concepts. Sagan takes the approach a step further, though, by delving into history. We learn of the ancient Ionian intellectual revolution, we learn of the Library at Alexandria, and Eratosthenes, the Greek thinker who calculated the circumference of the Earth, along with its axial tilt, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, over two thousand years ago. It’s a brilliant approach to modern science, and it makes the book relevant now, almost forty years after its first publication.

I would recommend this book to anyone. Science and space enthusiasts will enjoy it the most, but Sagan’s approach to science makes it easy to understand the ideas behind complicated theory. He discusses these topics with a great passion, and LeVar Burton, the narrator, brings that passion across in his narration. This book would make an excellent primer into science and space, as well as make a valuable read for anyone already familiar with some of the topics of discussion.

Started: February 15, 2018
Finished: February 28, 2018

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