In this classic book, Carl Sagan is simultaneously teacher, guide and storyteller, weaving together a tale to try and answer the question so many have asked: Who are we and where have we come from?
In a journey that spans 15 billion years, from the Big Bang to the immediate future as he saw it in the early 1980’s, Sagan gives us not only the story of evolution, but also glimpses of world history and scientific breakthroughs which helped us understand our home planet, our immediate neighbours in the Solar system and the worlds beyond.
He does veer sometimes into mathematical proofs and scientific details, but more often than not, I understood the broader concepts because the language has been deliberately kept simple. As someone who is reading a book on astronomy for the first time, I was able to grasp most of the ideas that were discussed.
A note however must be made of the lovely story-telling skills employed. The book is scattered with historical tales, myths and legends from different cultures and even bits of fictional musing. If you enjoy reading chapters which start off with a tale, explain mind boggling ideas in a simple language and then wrap it all up neatly, you will enjoy this book.
A descriptive language also come in handy when the words on the page give seeds to breathtaking visuals in your mind’s eye. For instance, in the chapter on Mars, I felt like I had landed on the rocky, red surface of the planet; in another chapter, I could easily picture myself on the moon Titan, looking at the faraway Sun, with Saturn and Jupiter two magnificent, huge globes in the sky.
If you’re a person who is even a little curious about the Earth, or about our Solar System, or what it would be like on Mars, what adventures we might encounter on inter-planetary travel, and if there are intelligent, alien civilisations in the wide expanse of the Universe, this book is for you. The fact that you’re a lay person who only read some science way back in school is not going to be a hindrance.
- “The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land” – T. H. Huxley
- “We live on a mote of dust circling a humdrum star in the remotest corner of an obscure galaxy.” I think it were these words of cosmic perspective by Carl Sagan which prompted me to change my phone wallpaper to that of The Pale Blue Dot.
- “A book is made from a tree… One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person – perhaps someone dead for thousands of year. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you… Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.”
- If you, like me, are a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, be ready to jump with excitement at certain passages in the book.
Author: Carl Sagan
First Published: 1980
Number of Pages: 432
Price: Hardcover – Rs. 1041 / Paperback – Rs. 399 (Amazon.in)
My rating: 9 out of 10
(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)