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Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Paperback – May 12, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0345379184 ISBN-10: 0345379187 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (May 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345379187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345379184
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

It is doubtful that there is anyone unfamiliar with noted astronomer and science writer Sagan's ability to convey the wonder, excitement, and joy of science. This book is a wonderful, if eclectic, collection of essays, some reprinted from magazines of national prominence, covering a wide range of topics: the invention of chess, life on Mars, global warming, abortion, international affairs, the nature of government, and the meaning of morality. Writing with clarity and an understanding of human nature, Sagan offers hope for humanity's future as he illuminates our ability to understand ourselves and to change the world for the better. The last chapter is an account of his struggle with myelodysplasia, the illness that finally took his life in December 1996. An epilog written by his wife is a personal account of the man rather than the scientist admired by so many. This last book is a fitting capstone to a distinguished career. Enthusiastically recommended.
-?James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

Carl Sagan died last December, and as a result, these essays exude a feeling of interrupted eloquence. The celebrity planetary astronomer possibly had more books to write that could have compared favorably with his Cosmos (1980) or Pale Blue Dot (1994), but disappointingly, this collection does not bloom like those dependable library perennials. Perhaps expectations are overly inflated with a new Sagan exposition in hand--but here, expectations rapidly deflate upon seeing that the contents comprise much reprinted material, such as nonscience articles he and his wife and coauthor, Ann Druyan, wrote for a Sunday newspaper supplement. One Parade piece, advancing their argument in favor of legal abortion, sourly criticizes televangelist Pat Robertson for using his influence to mobilize opposition to the 1990 article, a point that skates over the sway the authors themselves were trying to exert in the abortion controversy by means of their article. In other chapters, the subjects are flat--an explanation of the origin of Sagan's brand-name cliche"billions and billions" --or the subjects are rudimentary. Blemishes apart, this collection offers some worthwhile essays: his account of battling cancer or summaries of the enviro-political issues that he weighed in on, such as ozone depletion and the fossil fuels^-atmospheric warming nexus. However uneven and eclectic, this tome still flashes with Sagan's curiosity, wonder, and humanity concerning the scientific enterprise. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Carl Sagan was Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking, and Voyager spacecraft expeditions to the planets, for which he received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. Dr. Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize and the highest awards of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation, and many other awards, for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment. His book Cosmos (accompanying his Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning television series of the same name) was the bestselling science book ever published in the English language, and his bestselling novel, Contact, was turned into a major motion picture.

Customer Reviews

All I can say is you have to read it.
Adam J. Whittemore
They are typically very intelligent topics, described with enough scientific detail to prove a point, but in an entertaining or interesting way.
science_reader
This is the first nonfiction book I have read by Carl Sagan, although I have read one of his fiction works, Contact.
"never_wrong"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Adam J. Whittemore on August 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
After reading his two best known works, "Cosmos" and "Contact" and receiving a suggestion to read this, I ordered Billions and Billions off the internet. After the first two chapters, I was confused. They had the same heart-felt, easy-to-read style Sagan is known for, but this book seemed more private and passionate. Unlike his other works, this seems to peer into his soul much more than other stuff I've read.

The book is broken up into three parts. The first part is basically an introduction. It consists of a few chapters that educate you on such subjects as the importance of exponentials, the connection between hunting and football, and the true size and scope of the known universe. Like always, if the readers happens to already know a subject, it is still not painful to read through it. Sagan has a way with words that I can only describe as elegant. It is elementary enough to understand and yet intriguing enough to keep your interest.

The second section I would consider the "Warning Section". Pretty much the entire thing is a giant speech on the horrible things we are doing to our planet. It touches on CFC's, CO2 poisoning, and the greenhouse effect. While 100 pages of this can take it's toll on your patience every once in a while, I never trully lost interest. Right when you can consider it boring it switchs subjects just enough to keep you reading. This is definetely the section when you realize this must be Sagan's last work. The true opinion and passion that comes out out in his writing is so unlike his other books that I forgot I was reading the author of "Cosmos".

But right as I was about to get tired of hearing about the atmosphere and it's decline, the third section of the book came.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Michael McDaniel on February 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read this shortly after finishing Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark." While I heartily recommend either volume, this one will, I think, appeal more to the mainstream audience.
Dr. Sagan infuses this work not only with the critical thinking scientific method we know and admire him for, but also with a human touch which doesn't come across in some of his other writings. It is well worth your time to read what Sagan has to say here.
During his lifetime, he was occasionally criticised in the scientific community for popularizing science, but he has done more to advance the cause of science than almost anyone else in the 20th century. In making science accessible, he allowed all of us to share his excitement and curiosity, and we are all made poorer by his loss.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Thomas S Roche on March 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is an unbelievably moving and brilliant book. I wasn't prepared for what an environmentalist Sagan was or how much of his last book would be devoted to those causes, but it was a welcome surprise, especially since he comes to environmentalism from a place, quite simply, of understanding the human being's place in the cosmos. Sagan doesn't believe in man's place being at the top of creation -- on the contrary, he asserts that human beings are a transitional step in evolution, and if we don't destroy ourselves, there are still more strange and fascinating creatues left to evolve from us. What really makes the book a stunning series of insights, though, is the closing essay "In the Shadow of the Valley," Sagan's first-person account of his struggle with cancer. As he continues to fight bravely and, nonetheless, closes in on death, he shows an admirable ability to embrace the rational world he's known so well, rather than fleeing into superstition. His wife, Ann Druyan, made me weep with her inspiring and sad account of Carl's final hours, which serves as an afterword for the book. Truly an amazing achievement, to look in the face of death, without fear, believing that the only afterlife comes in the way people remember you. Magnificent and terrifying.
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko on July 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
+++++

This book by scientist, professor, and author Dr. Carl Sagan is his last of thirty books that was published posthumously. It is a compilation of selected previously published articles (some of them revised) that he wrote for the publication "Parade" (which is one of the most widely circulated publications in the United States).

This book is foremost an expression of Sagan's "thoughts" (a word in the book's subtitle). What he does is express his thoughts on various social, political, religious, and scientific issues.

These selected articles are divided into three parts that make up nineteen chapters. The epilogue makes up the fourth part. Below I shall state the "nuclei" of each chapter or article (as I see it) and give for selected articles a sample thought in quotation marks.

(I) (6 chapters)

(1) The meaning of big numbers and their importance when dealing with complex issues.
(2) Exponentials and their relation to complex issues.
(3) The human hunting instinct, a remnant from our past.
"[I]f we're stranded a few hundred centuries from when we long to be--if...we find ourselves, in an age of environmental pollution, social hierarchy, economic inequality, nuclear weapons...with [ancient] emotions but without [ancient] social safeguards--perhaps we can be excused for [liking rough, contact sports] like...football."
(4) The physics of waves, sound waves & human communication, and light waves & human sight.
"[T]he elegant machinery of the evolutionary process...has brought us into ...superb harmony with our physical environment."
(5) Four cosmic questions. Sagan explains the details behind these questions that are as follows:
(i) Was there ever life on Mars?
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