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Percival's Planet: A Novel Hardcover – August 3, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092189
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,528,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Byers (Long for This World) offers a gloriously expansive view of Depression-era America, from the easy extravagance of the Boston Brahmins to hardscrabble rural life. At its core, this is the story of Clyde Tombaugh, an unassuming Kansas farm kid who achieves international fame for his discovery of Pluto. In addition to Clyde, there is the Harvard crowd that precedes him at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona: Alan Barber, a man of modest background who aspires to the effortless grace of his wealthy colleague, Dick Morrow, and has a crush on Dick's scholarly and daring girlfriend, Florence. Byers connects Clyde's story with a number of riveting and eventually interlinking subplots, among them an archeological dig run by the wealthy Felix DuPrie, who has turned his back on the family business to try his hand at unearthing dinosaur bones, and the touching tale of Edward Howe, a former professional boxer who pines after his gorgeous and troubled secretary, whose delusions are portrayed with an amazing sensitivity and realism. Between the faultless storytelling and the juicy historical hook, it looks like a hit. (Aug.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Percival's Planet calculates the moral dimensions of scientific investigation, noted the Washington Post. It is this "breadth of Byers's field of vision [that] is a saving grace." If Byers's technical descriptions and research slowed down a few critics, they agreed that his wide scope--he tells many stories, with his characters exhibiting all-too-human motives and emotions--is his greatest success. A few felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of subplots, and the Washington Post thought that Byers's contemplative prose dulled an otherwise exciting tale. However, Byers' tale should be universally appealing--"just an endearing story of underdogs, both the ragtag crew of astronomers and the tiny celestial body they're hoping to find" (Entertainment Weekly).

More About the Author

Michael Byers' new novel about the discovery of Pluto, Percival's Planet, has been called "a towering achievement" by the Times of London. His first book, The Coast of Good Intentions, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and garnered a Whiting Writer's Award. Long for This World won the annual fiction prize from Friends of American Writers and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Both were New York Times Notable Books.

Byers' fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards; his nonfiction has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and elsewhere. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Percival's Planet is published by Picador UK as The Unfixed Stars.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Yeong Kwok on August 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Byers' new book is centered around the discovery of Pluto in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. What really brings the book to life is the cast of characters who have assembled there. A Kansas farm boy looking to escape the drudgery of his life by making a perfect mirror for his telescope on his farm. A scrappy young astronomer educated at Harvard who wants to show up the rich swells for whom everything seems so easy. A beautiful young woman who is slowly going mad and trying with all her power to resist it. A feckless heir to a fortune who reinvents himself among the old sedimentary rocks of Arizona. The idioms and feelings of the Jazz Age permeate the book throughout. The characters are drawn with a tender love by the sympathetic narrator. In the end, the story is the search for all the lost things in our own lives and about how even if we don't always find exactly what we are looking for, we do sometimes find what we need.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Team coach from TX on August 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one great book. If you like clever dialogue and well crafted characters that is! The story, set in Depression era America and centered around people who sought after Planet X, is simply the best written story I have read in quite a long time. I wish I could write 1/2 as well! Good novels that are just a pleasure to read are hard to find anymore. This fits the bill.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Kim on August 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. It combined the pleasures of historical fiction--idioms of language spoken in another period, fresh presentations of now-dated cultural standards, re-creations of disappeared landscapes--with the immediacy of fully-realized characters. The author has us experience the happiness of an old man being wheeled through the airport by his granddaughter rather than an airline attendant; the despair of a young woman who realizes that paranoid delusions are permanently weaving themselves into her perceptions; and the love that a couple can communicate to each other by acknowledging a shared memory from happier times. It has funny bits too. One of the best books I've read this year.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Raye on September 22, 2010
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Byer's research and writing style shine in this 400+ page tale about the human desires we all have and the lengths we go to in order to find/fuel those desires. The story is packed full (perhaps too full) with zanny, earthy and legally insane characters that will keep the reader anxiously waiting for their favorite storyline to continue. The search for Planet X (Pluto) is, at times, a side note, the vehicle used to move the story along, and yet it is still intriguing enough to keep up a decent core narration. At times, the supposed main character, Clyde, is left in the dust by far more interesting and dialogue rich characters, which can be confusing, and yet at the same time Clyde, who ultimately discovers Pluto, is perhaps the least interesting of them all so the reader doesn't much mind his sidekick statis. My only true complaint is that the beauty of the stars and the fascinating and complex mystery of the heavens are not fully appreciated by the author, who reduces space to mathematics and apathic characterizations (though, of course, astronomy is largely done through mathematics, it is not what usually captures the imagination). I enjoyed the book overall and would recommend it to most people. However, it could be unnecessarily "heavy" and slow moving and most of the meaning is not on the surface of the text and for this reason I would not recommend it to everyone. The search for Pluto is, when viewed as a metaphor, far more interesting than anything tangible.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DJRave on October 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Somewhere way out there, a practically invisible world seems to be causing just a small "shake" to the planets that were known to orbit the sun. Only an intensely minded mathmetician would take notice... and the keenest eyes of the time certainly couldn't see it.

That somebody could take this premise and develop such a rich story is quite amazing. This book pulls you into the struggles of four characters who (I can assure you) will invariably form their own orbits around your mind. Byers is as imaginative a writer as I've ever encountered. It is a remarkable language he uses to ultimately pull these orbits into alignment at a remote place in Arizona. By then, you are fully captured into the struggles of the central figures and the wide cast of forces that influcence them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. Cruze on November 3, 2010
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This is a novel in the tradition of the movies Grand Canyon, Crash and Babel, where several plot lines start separately and then weave together like different colored threads in the same fabric. There are similarities and contrasts in each of the stories, from a sort of be-careful-what-you-wish-for refrain to a follow-your-dream strain. Based quite loosely on the true story of the discovery of Pluto, if that is the part you're interested in, you might be disappointed, as it's only one of the fibers. If, on the other hand, you like colorful, sort of wacky characters and a beautiful writing style (one winter scene felt so real to me that I could see the breath from the horse's nostrils), then by all means, pick up this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. Yergin on September 5, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wonderful book. Very well written, bit of a glance into Depression Era life mixed in with the story of the discovery of the planet Pluto. If you like Historical Fiction, and Astronomy, this is a gem. Both of these subjects are near and dear to my heart. Hope you give it a try.
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