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Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0312245511
ISBN-10: 0312245513
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Amazon.com Review

As Oliver Morton shows in his superb new book, Mapping Mars, Mars has clouds, winds, and shorelines. It has river valleys, mountains, volcanoes, and even glaciers. Even were it lifeless, it could support life, albeit of an almost unimaginably marginal kind. What Mars lacks is places. There are no "theres" there, nor will there be--until our feet make an impact on its soil.

Oliver Morton has a sense of place and a hunger for Mars, and a thrilling manner of communicating both. His account of our nearest neighbor's history, geology, and human potential is exhaustive. Morton touches on just about everything, from soil composition to survival techniques; from Martians to maps (maps, above all: they are his abiding subject, metaphor, and organizing principle). His artistry is to hide his daunting range of interests under a passionate and gripping human narrative: this book is about what Mars has meant, means, and may one day mean for us. And he has a wide-ranging definition of who "we" are. Like a good military historian, Morton knows to pay attention to the foot soldiers of science, as well as to the achievements of their celebrated masters. He understands how different the sciences are from each other, and how rivalries between them arise. Further, Morton understands where these people and their institutions sit in the general culture. He understands the crossover between science and science fiction, between space advocates and space fans.

All of which makes Morton's book something more than just "the story of Mars." It is, in addition, an astute study of how we go about exploring our world. --Simon Ings

From Publishers Weekly

Well-known British science writer Morton, a contributor to Wired, the New Yorker and Science, traces scientists' efforts to map and understand the surface of Mars. Because much of the planet's surface material is basalt, which is porous, Morton explains, it is very probable that water from Mars's now dry canyons long ago sank into underground aquifers and froze. Mars has often been regarded as the planet most similar to Earth, but the author describes graphically how startlingly different its topography is. Mars is a planet with mountains larger than whole American states and plains the size of Canada. Our Grand Canyon would be dwarfed by the massive erosion canyons that surprised us a decade ago with their implication that titanic floods once rushed across the planet's surface. Olympus Mons, its largest volcano, is taller than two Everests, contains more than four times the total volume of the Alps and has a circumference larger than the distance between the northern and southern tips of the home islands of Japan. Morton writes eloquently and displays a breadth of knowledge not often found in science writing. He summarizes how science fiction authors have imagined Mars as well as how pre-computer artists used airbrush techniques to depict Mars's monstrous contours. The book might have benefited from being more tightly focused, but astronomy and geology buffs will be sure to snap it up. 16 color photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (October 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312245513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312245511
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 11.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,964,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on a whim after getting interested in Mars colonization after reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, to which Dr. Morton's book is an excellent non-fiction counterpoint. Not only does he set forth a well-spoken, engaging exposition of the 20th century's cultural and scientific history of Mars, he balances this with a keen sense of the limitations of human knowledge, telling his story in the context of real, live human figures at the forefront of Mars exploration.
The central theme, of maps and how they relate to place - and furthermore, how we relate to those maps and places - sets off an easily read story of what Mars has meant to recent society, how scientists have shaped that understanding, and how that understanding is both formed and limited by our extended observers, the robot orbiters and landers that we've sent to our red neighbor.
Highly recommended reading both for historical and cultural interest.
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Format: Hardcover
The one geographic feature of the planet Mars that most people can think of is the famous "Face on Mars," a huge rock formation which is, if the fringe interpreters have it right, a gigantic, one-generic-face Mount Rushmore, to be viewed by us humans as sculpted by esthetically inclined Martians. There is more to Martian geography than that, and _Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World_ (Picador) by Oliver Morton, barely mentions the Face, and does not stoop to debunk it. Once again, real science is shown to be much more fascinating than fringe science. _Mapping Mars_ provides a history of how we know what we know about the most nearly Earth-like neighbor, and shows how we are actively creating a world in our own image.
There have been generations of pre-rocketry astronomers who tried to make sense of our neighbor planet. Morton gives a history of the English astronomers who named features on Mars after Englishmen, and French, Frenchmen, as well as Percival Lowell's certainty that he could see canals the Martians had made. The detailed mapping, begun with the later powerful earthly telescopes, was not all done with photography. "The well-trained human eye could seize such brief impressions, understand what was seen in them, and remember it," allowing much more resolution than photographs, and the book is illustrated with examples of different artistic versions of maps and terrain. Many science fiction books have tried to take in our understanding of the terrain and the ecology. Movies, however, have not done a good job, disregarding science; "... the blatantly ignored scientific advisor on _Mission to Mars_ ... has been stoically bearing the ridicule of his colleagues ever since.
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Format: Hardcover
Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton is an excellent book! Morton takes the reader on the very human journey to map Mars from Percival Lowell to the folks planning the 2003 rovers. Along the way, Morton brings everything that conceivably connects to this mapping effort, including Mars art [I'm proud to say I have an original Bill Hartmann hanging on my living room wall] and Mars fiction [no, I won't sell you my signed first editions of Stan Robinson's Mars books], into the mix. I also found Mapping Mars to be one of the best introductions to geology and geologists at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century I've read in recent years. My one complaint [and it's not really Morton's fault - Morton was just passing on a piece of history] is with the following passage:
[Robert Zubrin] told [his students] that no one did more for society, or was more worthy of respect, than scientists and engineers. If that was so, asked one of the kids one day, why was Zubrin just a teacher. Zubrin came up with an answer-he always had answers-but he took the question to heart. He began applying to graduate schools....
I agree with most of the sentiment in this passage, except the part about teachers somehow being less admirable than scientists. I was trained as a geologist and I teach high school earth science. I get asked the same question all the time AND I too have an answer:
Someone has to begin training the folks that'll be the first people on Mars [and help the rest become damn fine citizens of the Earth].
I highly recommend Mapping Mars, especially to anyone with an interest in Mars, geology and geologists, mapping, the cultural offshoots of the exploration of our solar system, and the future.
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By A Customer on February 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Mapping Mars covers more ground than its title would suggest. Not only does it give an enjoyable account of the attempts to describe Mars' topography, it also tells of how scientists, artists, and authors have grappled with the red planet over the years. Mars seems to be dear to Morton's heart -- he turned down the opportunity to be a founding member of the Planetary Society -- but he provides a very balanced view of the sometimes abrasive personalities behind Mars exploration.
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, if you have the slightest interest in the geology of Mars, or in maps, or in planetary science (and, if not, why are you here?) you *need* to read this book.

"This is a splendid book and a major achievement in the study of Mars.... A number of authors might fairly claim to have written the best Mars novel, but this is the best factual book on Mars that money can buy."
-- New Scientist, Google for online review

Tidbits:
"When the investigator, having under consideration a fact or group of facts whose origin or cause is unknown, seeks to discover their origin, his first step is to make a guess." --GK Gilbert, Science 3(53), 1896 (which codified the method of multiple working hypotheses). Gilbert, of course, was "one of the happy generation of American geologists who...took their impressive beards and intellects to every corner of the American West."

Gene Shoemaker's first map of Meteor Crater, in 1957, was done for the old AEC, as part of a truly crackbrained scheme to manufacture plutonium by detonating uranium-wrapped A-bombs underground. Which, thank heavens, never got very far. Gene didn't like the idea, either, but who's to turn down funding?

No map of exotic lands is complete without exotic names, and the map of Mars is well-stocked: Noctis Labyrinthus, the Labyrinth of Night. Tithonium Chasma, Albe Patera --a volcano that occupies an area about equal to that of India --Claritas Fossae, Utopia Planita... Olympus Mons! Formerly Nix Olympica, the Snows of Olympus --and the highest mountain known to humanity. Mauna Kea, Earth's biggest volcano, would fit comfortably inside Olympus' summit caldera. OM contains some 3.5 million cubic km of rock--or the area of Texas, if excavated 8 km deep.
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