on September 7, 1999
Carl Sagan's Cosmos, tells the strory of 15 billion years of cosmic history like no one else can.
The book shows how broad and deep Carl's interests extend and draws the reader into a world of fascination. Although the book is primarily about how science has developed in our society the book touches on subjects such as history, philosophy, religion, cultures and so fourth. The book is written in simple terms and is understandable to those without a background in science.
Carl has an amazing ability to write with such enthusiasim and sincerity. Although the book was written at the height of the cold war it reflects an overall optimisim and hope for our species and planet. Carl Sagan is a remarkable human being and humanitarian as is reflected in all of his books. Cosmos is in some way his manifesto and I believe his best book. Carl's death was a loss not just to science but also to our species.
Carl Sagan is my favourite author and Cosmos my favourite book.
I recommend Cosmos to all of those who can read! *****!!!
on March 19, 2003
As one of the great astronomer-writers of the Twentieth Century, Carl Sagan was extraordinarily communicative with the non-scientific public, able and willing to take the time and trouble to break down the mysteries of the universe into comprehensible fragments. The purpose of this book, which can be considered a companion to the acclaimed television series, is to explain what we know about the universe from a cosmological perspective and why we need to know more about it.
Physicists often talk of the unity of the branches of physics: the interrelation and application of mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, and optics to the motion of everything from galaxies to subatomic particles. Similarly, Sagan's major theme is the unity of cosmology with the natural and physical sciences that define what we know about the Earth. Does the stifling, carbon dioxide-choked atmosphere of Venus imply anything about the greenhouse effect on Earth? Was a nearby cosmic explosion called a supernova indirectly responsible for the disappearance of the dinosaurs? What would be the biological consequences for the survivors of a global nuclear war? The answers to these questions are vital to the continuation of life as we know it.
Sagan also identifies cosmology with its own history. He lavishes reverent detail on the ancient Greek and Alexandrian study of the stars and planetary motions, the pioneering work by the Renaissance scientists Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus, Huygens, and others, and the men who revolutionized science with the formulation of laws of motion, Newton and Einstein.
The scope of "Cosmos" is tremendous, from the farthest expanses of the universe containing a hundred billion galaxies in addition to our own Milky Way, at the end of a spiraling arm of which our solar system is located; down to the lone electron circling the nucleus of a hydrogen atom, the most plentiful single entity in the cosmos and the source of everything we know, love, and are. In between there is discussion of the unmanned spacecraft expeditions to investigate "our" planets: Mars with its boulder-strewn, desert-like terrain; the gaseous giant Jupiter; Io, a Jovian moon of incredible redness, spotted with volcanic orifices and resembling an unappealing sauce-covered meatball; Saturn with its ice rings. Would these worlds contain life? Using what we know about the evolution of life on Earth, Sagan hypothesizes how different types of lifeforms might develop on worlds with different environments.
Even a casual interest in cosmology requires a fascination with astronomical distances and unthinkably long spans of time in which a human lifetime is but a blink of an eye. However, Sagan seems to write also for those who would rather relate cosmic arcana to familiar terms, and in this sense he is a grand entertainer: A thought experiment that provides a simple but fanciful illustration of the concept of black holes uses the tea party scene in "Alice in Wonderland" as a setting. "Cosmos" neither complicates unnecessarily nor insults your intelligence; very few "popular" science books will capture your imagination so well.
on January 7, 2001
I first saw the series COSMOS on TV in about 1980 when I was about 12, and have been searching for similar material ever since. Carl Sagan is able to capture the mystery and the beauty of astronomy, science, art and religion in a way that most poeple can follow, and in a way that is interesting and invigorating. He is a very clear thinker and presenter. And this book, based on that very popular TV series of the same name, I found in an old book store, which I immediately grabbed. Here was something of my childhood, and something very special. The book did not disappoint. It is filled with stunning images, photographs, illustrations, diagrams and so on. And the text is fun, enlightening, clear, visionary, and precise. Not surprising, since it is written by an atronomer at heart. It is also advisable to search around and buy the illustrated edition-the illustrations add much to the text.
Carl places the earth on the shores of the cosmic ocean-the title of the first chapter. He traces religious, artistic and scientific investigations into the 'cosmos' throughout the millenia, and the amount of useful historical information he brings up is quite extraordinary. He draws together the thoughts of ancient cultures like the Greeks, Babylonians, Stone Age man, Renaissance thinkers, poets, artists, and famous scientists, and ties these in with many modern discoveries concerning the nature of the universe. One can see his strong leanings on the likelihood of extraterrestial life and the SETI project between the lines, as well as his views on religion and its place in the human psyche. One particularly interesting peice describes the downfall of the old greek science and the destruction of the library at Alexandria, and how these tie in with his views on history, science and religion in general.
Carl Sagan is a very clear and thoughtful writer. It is obvious that his knowledge of human nature and science is vast and humane. He worries much about the mususe of science, and the future of man. This book is a must for lovers of general science, human nature and destiny. As such it is a timeless classic. I'll close with the books closing words:
"For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins:starstuff pondering the stars; organised assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing their long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we sprung."
on June 15, 2012
The content of this book makes it a classic. But the quality of the mass market edition fails to do it justice: the print is the tiniest I have ever seen (or not seen--who knew so many words could be crowded onto a page?). The covers are the event horizon beyond which legibility disappears. The layout is perfunctory and the paper cheap. Yes, mass markets are not printed for elegance, but this one sets a new low. For a few dollars more, the paperback edition, also available from Amazon, provides everything you were hoping for, including a large number of high-quality illustrations and photos, that, like the much more expensive hard cover edition, creates in the reader the sense of surprise and awe that Sagan intended.
on November 6, 2000
"Cosmos" is Carl Sagan's masterpiece! He provides us with a very lucid, understandable history of the Universe and how galaxies, solar systems, planets, and our biosphere came into existence.
This book reaches way out into the farthest reaches of the Universe, as well as deep within each of us explaining the DNA that makes us who we are. Carl Sagan literally touches on every known field of science as he explains how a brilliant flash of cosmic energy that was transformed into matter eventually provided the stuff needed to make you and me.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Not only does it inform, but it truly captivates the imagination and provides the basic groundwork for future ponderings.
on June 29, 2001
I barely remember the program leaflet...
"Introducing Doctor Carl Sagan - Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences, and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University."
It seems like just yesterday. I was a teenager in New England, and some guy was invited to give a lecture about astronomy at the high school auditorium. I'd never heard of Carl Sagan before, but when his credentials were publicized, I had the notion that his talk would most likely be very interesting. That is, if he was a capable speaker. You never know - I'd been put to sleep by the best of them.
Needless to say, I didn't sleep a wink! I was literally riveted to a fluid voice that sounded (and felt) like the eternal trickle of clear water from a bottomless well. His lecture was a celebration of passion and prose. His accounts and speculations of the Planetary Sciences and Exobiology seemed to drain into my head through an ectoplasmic funnel. There were brief moments when my awareness would be perched on just his phrases and expressions, as though he were coining new terminology - "Billions and billions". And afterward he mingled, and I shook his hand.
His enthusiasm for science was infectious, like a virus. If you weren't careful, he was going to get you interested. His demeanor and presence were a magnetic force to be reckoned with, and you were darned glad it was. Then the TV series Cosmos hit the screen we all nodded, and said that we just knew he was going to be famous someday. Before he died in 1997, over half a billion people saw Cosmos on TV, and it was the best-selling science book ever published in the English language.
Some of the science in Cosmos is now out of date. But that doesn't change the fact that this book and its author will remain forever the symbols of awareness in the realm of science and astronomy. Plus, its philosophies and ideals are as current as today, and for all time.
Cosmos was really the beginning of enlightened public interest in the Universe. The juicy morsel that got us to salivate over what has become the ultimate banquet. When the science of Sagan was new, and its theories current, we all dreamt in hoards of being closer to it all; of knowing what he knows; of learning beyond the boundaries that he so ardently confronted. And now that he's gone, there is this legacy - the original manuscript of collective understanding; the quintessential tablet of science for the past, present, and future.
Cosmos was the first book to be placed on the Belmont Society's "Required Reading List for the amateur astronomer". It is mostly available in paperback, but a few hardcover editions are still around. Whichever you find, read it with a slight note of reverence. It would be well deserved.
on March 23, 2001
Cosmos is more than just a book about space. The word Cosmos itself, derived from ancient Greek, implies the deep interconnectedness of all things, in which we all play a part. Although it was written over two decades ago, and therefore you may think that it may not be so relevant in its facts today, its underlying dual-purposes, to educate and to inspire, remain just as relevant as ever. It serves as an introduction to science, and the late Carl Sagan, one of the great humanists of our time, does an excellent job in bringing us into that world by not presenting simply hard facts and technobabble. Instead, he tries to make the book accessible to the scientific novice, and shows how it is relevant to every aspect of our daily lives. And we learn about the development of human understanding, not only in terms of 'Where did we come from?' and 'How did the universe get created?', but the development of ourselves, as people who began our existence from the most humble of beginnings, and were intelligent enough to ask ourselves 'Who are we?' and of course 'Why are we here?'. He shows why science is not only relevant to us here and now, but how it can help us to understand the future, and in the final chapter, he makes it clear that through the rampant destruction of our environment, that future may not be so long-reaching as we might dream it. Sagan manages to gently educate us in a stylish and entertaining way, and his book Cosmos leaves us feeling richer for the experience. I certainly recommend this to anyone. After all, it does concern everyone!
on November 9, 1999
This book changed my life. I studied science for over 10 years, and now I teach science (to High school kids) because of this book. My parents bought me Cosmos when I was an 11-year old (the same year the book was originally published) and I have been reading it ever since. I like to think I'm a decent teacher, but Dr. Sagan was a master. Students of all disciplines can learn from this remarkable text; Carl Sagan's passion for understanding and his various commitments to human welfare shine out like a beacon. If you have teenage kids, but them this book.
How many people who watched the 'Cosmos' series on television (PBS in America - perhaps the best astronomy and general science series ever produced by them) could ever forget Carl Sagan's intonation at proclaiming the wonders of the universe in grand terms, billions and billions of stars and galaxies and planets (and consequently, everything else).
While this book was published in 1980 to be a companion to the television series, there is nonetheless a certain timelessness about it. Many science texts (even general readers such as this) become dated fairly quickly. Yet this book remains a volume to which I refer time and again for its history, philosophy and insight into scientific method and personality.
This book more than anything provided the inspiration for me to study astronomy. While I did not take a degree in it (when I arrived at university I was informed that I had already studied more than their undergraduate curriculum provided; that I should take some physics and mathematics courses and then take a Master's degree later if interested--which may happen after the my current degree progress is completed), my interest in astronomy has remained strong and permeates many of my other interests, including my current work in theology and philosophy.
The visual presentation of this book is stunning. Pictures, particularly those from telescopes, space probes, and dramatic artistic renderings of phenomena not yet captured on film give a real feel for the subject.
Sagan begins the book with a grand tour of the universe, starting at the outermost edges with quasars and unknowns, and travelling back through galaxies and stars, passing interesting objects such as nebulae, black holes, stellar nurseries, planetary systems, finally to arrive back on earth, the unique planet (from our perspective) because it has life.
From here, Sagan goes back in history to the great library of Alexandria, which remains an object of fascination (current archaeological excavations continue in Alexandria, and there are various plans for memorialising the library). He introduces early efforts at scientific method and investigation by discussing Eratosthenes, a librarian who investigated reports in the various texts for himself, rather than taking things at face value.
Chapters include explorations of planetary astronomy, with special attention to Mars; stellar astronomy and the life cycle of stars; issues of space and time; issues of observation and epistemology (how do we know what we know, and why do we think we know it?); the origin and fate of the universe; the idea of life on other planets (Sagan confesses to a prejudice--the idea that life must be based on carbon, and not other elements); and the idea of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) which due to Sagan's work and influence continues today in various ways around the globe. Finally, Sagan discusses the politics of science (and politics in general) giving a cautious hope for the fate of the earth--this was the height of the Cold War, after all.
'We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organised assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.'
Intelligent, written with grace and humour, the narrative is largely non-technical but not condescending and lends itself well to understanding.
on June 28, 2001
I have never been much of a scientist, but Carl Sagan makes me wish I was. In Cosmos, Sagan takes the readers through the history, present (as of 1980), and future of astronomy. In under 300 pages, he summarized all that I learned in a semester long astronomy class and much more, all in clear, concise, and interesting prose. He asks and answers many questions I have had about the universe beyond Earth, and proposes many theories and scenarios that he wishes he knew more about. He writes in a way that every reader can understand, even when the subject is a terribly complex problem that only the greatest astronomers have dared to tackle. This trait as well as his own curiosity, make the reader feel comfortable and assured even if they will never be more than hopelessly amatuer astronomers. Aside from the broad exploration of the Cosmos, Sagan makes interesting cases for the advancement of knoledge and peace on Earth and takes fascinating tangents that are very thought provoking. This is the best science book I have ever read and while I will never be much of a scientist, it makes me jealous of those who are.