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Lives of the Planets: A Natural History of the Solar System Hardcover – June 25, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (June 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465014038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014033
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,734,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Corfield (The Silent Landscape) paints a companionable guide on this tour of the solar system. With a subject spanning 4.6 billion years, many billions of miles and eight (well, maybe nine) planets, a host of moons, asteroids galore, a plethora of comets and more, it is not surprising that many of the details are not filled in. Nonetheless, there is much to grab the average reader. Corfield focuses in turn on each major item in the solar system. Chapters begin by discussing the early ideas humans had about each object and then move to the advances we've made over the past 50 years. Finally, Corfield synthesizes available knowledge and explains what we currently know and why we know it. Throughout, he does a good job of articulating why he believes the billions of dollars spent on space exploration have been worthwhile. Discussing the joint NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens project to explore Saturn and Titan, one of its moons, Corfield says, We went to Titan because it seemed the world most similar to the Earth when our world was new. With his strong writing and expansive subject, it is impossible not to be infected with Corfield's enthusiasm for planetary science. 28 color photos. (July 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Modulated for a general audience, Corfield's tour of the solar system rides on space missions dispatched to the planets. Proceeding from the sun outward to Pluto—planet or not, a spacecraft is speeding toward it right now—Corfield balances the technological with his scientist's eye for the geophysical questions these space projects were intended to answer. After pioneering reconnaissance supplied a basic idea of a planet's appearance and hospitability to life, subsequent missions, as Corfield explains, were designed with more precise goals in mind. Corfield describes these aims and analyzes how well they have been met—obtaining atmospheric and surface information about Venus and discovering if life did or does exist on Mars. He then expands his findings into descriptions of the sun, each planet, the asteroids, and the outer limits of the solar system, from where the Voyager spacecraft are currently sending data. The author also poses the questions that future missions will pursue, such as determining a possible ocean on Jupiter's Europa. A clear and enthusiastic introduction to our cosmic neighborhood. Taylor, Gilbert

Customer Reviews

I am also not an astrophysicist, so I was extremely happy that this was such an easy book to read and understand.
Shar
R. Corfield describes development of our knowledge about solar system and gives recent information on research of the planets.
ProbablyL
The author is clearly showing his roots with all of the details, but without the details, something would be missing.
Burgmicester

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Artyom Kopp on December 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I must say I was very disappointed in this book. Not that it's bad, it's just not at all what I expected. "Lives of the hardware launched into space" would be a more accurate, although perhaps less alluring, title.
I would say that roughly 1/3 of this book is actually about the planets and other celestial bodies. Most of it is about hardware, NASA, science administration and funding, mission managers and engineers, and the authors family life and childhood interests. Things like planetary surface topography and chemistry, geological history, atmospheres, orbital mechanics, etc. - the actual "Lives of the Planets" - are skipped over with an absolute minimum of detail. Volcanism on Io is barely dignified with a mention while the political infighting between different space agencies and laboratories takes center stage. To my taste, there just not enough meat in this book. If you enjoy "human interest" stories, by all means go ahead and buy this book - just don't expect much science. You'd be better off browsing through old Scientific Americans.
By the way - if someone can recommend a good, up-to-date "science" book on the Solar system, I'd appreciate it.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By racapowski VINE VOICE on June 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As already noted, this is a history of the various satellite missions to the planets instead of the planets themselves. And that's OK; I expected such, having read the reviews and a few sample passages in the store. What shocked me, though, was Corfield's odd and plainly mean-spirited decision to focus on the programs' blunders and failures, however miniscule they may be in comparison to their accomplishments. Strange to see an astronomer, someone who presumably has a big-picture outlook on the world, caught up in such pettiness.

Corfield consistently portrays of scientists as a stupid lot, their beliefs founded on fads and personal prejudice until the evidence knocks them upside their empty heads. Funny thing about that evidence; it seems to show up of its own accord, with no human responsibility for its discovery. (Who's pursuing the truth and amending previous theories, then? Flying spaghetti monsters?) Any researcher who has ever come to a conclusion we now perceive as erroneous, regardless of the limitations of their era or tools, is smirkingly dismissed as worthless and chuckleheaded. (Galileo failed to properly identify Saturn's rings with his 17th-century telescope - heh, what a hopeless moron.) Forgive me for flinging this accusation at an accomplished astronomer, but - Corfield doesn't seem to get how science works. I imagine that "PWNED!!!!!" is a prominent part of his everyday vocabulary.

Corfield's approach makes his account of space exploration opaque. It's not important what the Pioneer missions observed, only that those losers eventually got thrashed by Voyager; it's not important what Voyager observed, only that its team was unforgivably boneheaded for not following the course Corfield would have. Corfield's...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on February 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The title and subtitle of this book are quite curious and one has to wonder if they were coined by the publisher and not the author. A "natural history" of the "lives of planets" would imply an evolutionary treatment much different than what the author generally delivered - a mostly technical and political history of exploration programs. More specifically, Corfield takes a few wrong turns while attempting a pan-scientific focus, particularly in the chapter on the earth and the moon. There, Corfield covers alternatives to mainstream biological theory for some reason, and then closes the chapter with an unnecessary debunking of the solar system's lamest conspiracy theory - moon landing denial. Overall, except for the final chapter on Pluto and the mysterious mini-planets beyond, there is little new astronomical information in this book, though it is a pretty readable compendium of knowledge as of 2007. Despite these flaws the book is still enjoyable and offers plenty of coverage of the development of the various instruments and spacecraft that have built our knowledge of the solar system, which will satisfy more engineering-oriented readers. For those interested in an approachable update on the latest knowledge of our fascinating solar system, this book is a mostly rewarding experience. But for knowledgeable readers who may be looking for new revelations, or unique coverage as implied by the title and subtitle, this book doesn't have much to add to our knowledge. [~doomsdayer520~]
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By Shar on September 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I needed a book for a book report I was doing. I am also not an astrophysicist, so I was extremely happy that this was such an easy book to read and understand. It gave a fairly comprehensive overview of where we have come with exploration since the beginning of the space age. I enjoyed it.
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps the old axiom is true, although I hate to admit it. Historians should not try to do scientific research and scientists should not try to do history. At least the latter is true for this book by Richard Corfield. He is a brilliant scientist; but if this book is any indication he should stick to what he does best and leave history to the historians. "Lives of the Planets: A Natural History of the Solar System" is intended as a book for a general audience about the history of the exploration of the solar system. Corfield's intention was to take an historical approach toward explaining what we know about this important subject. He promised to relate the latest knowledge about the planets of the solar system as well as how over time we have learned about them. That is a noble objective but one fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is the coalescing of the historical story with the scientific record to create a seamless whole. Unfortunately, the author failed to accomplish this task and "Lives of the Planets" is a poor effort to explain either the history or the science of solar system exploration.

Richard Corfield takes a relatively straightforward approach toward his subject, starting with the Sun and then moving on to Mercury as the innermost planet and thereafter working outward. It may be that this method contributes to the failure of "Lives of the Planets," for an historical approach to each body in the solar system is by definition fragmentary and incomplete since it does not represent reality in any true sense. But beyond this systemic problem with this work, there are other even more disturbing difficulties. Let me suggest only a few of them.
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