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Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium [Paperback]

Carl Sagan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 12, 1998 0345379187 978-0345379184 Reprint
In the final book of his astonishing career, Carl Sagan brilliantly examines the burning questions of our lives, our world, and the universe around us. These luminous, entertaining essays travel both the vastness of the cosmos and the intimacy of the human mind, posing such fascinating questions as how did the universe originate and how will it end, and how can we meld science and compassion to meet the challenges of the coming century? Here, too, is a rare, private glimpse of Sagan's thoughts about love, death, and God as he struggled with fatal disease. Ever forward-looking and vibrant with the sparkle of his unquenchable curiosity, Billions & Billions is a testament to one of the great scientific minds of our day.

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Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium + The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark + Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
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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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (May 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345379187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345379184
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.9 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: #16,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
98 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, Easy Read August 29, 2004
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A more reflective Sagan February 18, 2000
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
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

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]"
(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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite possibly one of the most enlightening books I've ever read
It may be a bit outdated, but this book far succeeds any science text I have read recently. The content is easily digestible, and Carl Sagan is brilliant at making science into... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gary Rudrow
4.0 out of 5 stars "stellar"
Do you want to feel really small? Since we are all Protons, Electrons and Neutrons, the book connects all of us to the cosmos and I felt as "one" with everything around... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Knute
5.0 out of 5 stars where will we go?
This book should be in every school worldwide. Dr. Sagan has a way of conveying these grandiose ideas in an amazingly conotehendable way.
Published 2 months ago by Z0rd0n
5.0 out of 5 stars On wards Carl Sagan
Billions and Billions, his thoughts on life and death at the turn of the century.
I am reading it all the way through, the entire book, which I have read years ago but never... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Charlton McIntosh
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK!
Published 2 months ago by CONNIE DALY HEDRICK
3.0 out of 5 stars A sad ending
Carl Sagan wrote many books, trying to bring science to the mainstream public & make it interesting. He made a valiant attempt with this one too, his last book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by JJ Writer
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT !!!!
If my son could be anybody, I truly believe he would be Carl Sagan right hand man. He truly loves reading and really enjoys Carl Sagan. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kim
5.0 out of 5 stars In the valley of the shadow
An intimate and deep take on life, humanity, morality, love, and death.

The last chapter is very emotional charged and I found my self within a deeper understanding of... Read more
Published 4 months ago by chuck norris
5.0 out of 5 stars Sagan's goodbye
He wrote this while he was dying. It is dear Carl Sagan's last gift to us, his honest, rational, thoughts about the world he was leaving. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Anne R. Fitzgerald
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Sagan's best work
Carl Sagan is one of those authors on Amazon that has a bit of a cult following. You know, the one's where if you rate anything of his books below four stars, they come out of the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Andrew Frysword
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