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Carl Sagan: A Life Paperback – August 31, 2000
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As his stellar science career developed, Sagan built a reputation as a leftist who believed that "science could serve liberal ideals," and as an arrogant man with an unshakable confidence in his own brain. Davidson writes that Sagan developed his famous skepticism as an undergraduate. Sagan suffered from a "troubling mix of intense emotion and stark rationalism," writes Davidson. He succeeded (mostly) in balancing passion with reason, a balance that made him a perfect popularizer of science, a trustworthy authority who preached that an open mind was the most valuable scientific tool. Davidson was influenced personally by Sagan's writings, and he sometimes works a little too hard at puncturing the myths surrounding Sagan, but this biography is one that deserves to be read by Sagan's fans and detractors alike. It's a compelling, very real assessment of an all-too-human god of science. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Carl Sagan is easily the second most famous scientist of the 20th century. If you came of age in the period 1970-1990, you were influenced by Sagan - period. Whatever you may think of him as a scientist, you must admit that nobody did more to popularize science in the public eye during this period. The two most obvious examples are his Cosmos television series and his numerous appearances with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.
Poundstone's book reflects Ann Druyan's influence much more than Davidson's. The result is a much more flattering account of Sagan's life, potentially minimizing some of the warts. Davidson, if anything, spends too much effort trying to psychohistorically analyze Sagan's two failed marriages and his fractured relationship with oldest son Dorion.
Davidson also focuses much more attention on Sagan's books, attempting to plot the development of his career as a scientist and maturity as a writer based on each book's unique character. Here again, he attempts to delve below the surface into the hidden motives and influences. For instance, while both Poundstone and Davidson detail Sagan's marijuana use, Davidson goes further and suggests that the Pulitzer-winning Dragon's of Eden was largely a marijuana- induced work.
William Poundstone Focuses more on his scientific achievements, with emphasis on the many conferences he chaired regarding SETI, exobiology, and his work on the Voyager and Mariner probes to Mars and the gas giants. Some of the reviews of the latter actually read like a popular scientific account of these missions, written around Sagan's contribution and perspective.Read more ›
That's the feeling I got reading Keay Davidson's biography of Carl Sagan. For the most part the book highlights Sagan's numerous failures in his scientific career. And contains numerous disparaging words on Sagan's "undeserved" fame - the most stinging being Edwards Teller's parting remark of Sagan, "What did he do? What did he discover?" (pg 380)
Clearly, Davidson has missed the mark here - not on facts but on focus. Sagan's work was never in the same league with that of - say - Feynman, Bohr or Einstein. We know this. We accept this. And he can hardly be blamed for such a shortcoming since astrophysics has hardly been at the frontiers of science - as, say particle physics or mathematical physics. (Well, perhaps not since the times of Kepler, Galileo and Newton.)
Davidson admits to being influenced by Sagan, (more than just once) and he comes across as a fan still pretty much in awe of his idol. I don't really blame him for that. In fact, if Davidson had paid more attention to this line of thought - Sagan's influence - rather than Sagan's science, the book may have come closer to capturing the spirit of awe and wonder that Sagan seemed to wield almost effortlessly, especially to millions of television viewers across the globe.
Sagan was more than a scientist. He was more than a teacher. Sagan was - to me and millions of people like me around the globe - a Svengali of science. The first - but hopefully not the last. I can say with absolute certainty that I may never have given a career in physics a second thought, had I not, as child, been dazzled by the television series Cosmos.Read more ›
The portrait that Davidson paints with this hefty tome (over 400 pages of text, and another 100 pages of footnotes, bibliography, and index) respectfully depicts the penultimate showman-scientist of the 20th century. It's difficult to be a good scientist without being driven, and Sagan was nothing if not driven. But he also had a flamboyant imagination, one that would alternately drive and undermine his scientific contributions. It's awfully hard to be that famous and not get a big head, and by Davidson's account, his head grew awfully big.
The previous reviewer faulted Davidson for getting as much input from Sagan's detractors as from his admirers. Of course he did. Davidson is a science writer, writing for a primarily scientifically-inclined audience; he is not writing for "Entertainment Tonight". I personally found the comments of first wife Lynn Margulis to be exceptionally even-keeled for an ex-wife (one wonders what invective would have been unearthed had Linda Salzman consented to an interview).
Ultimately, Davidson has depicted Sagan as the human being that he was, warts and all, because that is indeed who Sagan was. To sugarcoat the man's life to appease his adulators would have ultimately done humanity a disservice. I came away from this book not only respecting Sagan as much as I ever have, but feeling privileged to have received a glimpse of the real human being behind the television persona.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book by Keay Davidson leaves nothing out, however I would recommend both books if you want a complete picture of Carls life. Read morePublished 23 months ago by dragonaudra
I was very impressed by this biography by Carl Sagan which introduces the man with all his strengths and flaws. Read morePublished on March 6, 2013 by Ash Jogalekar
It's well-written, has just enough facts (but not too many), and suits my research purposes. I would recommend reading it.Published on February 26, 2013 by Vicky Rockey
A terrific, warts-and-all biography of a 20th century icon of science, literature, and broadcast media. Excellent writing, exhaustively researched, and entertaining. Read morePublished on June 26, 2012 by J. Robbins
This book has sure generated a wide variety of opinions. Not surprising. Many works will do that. What surprises me are those reviews who refer to this book as a hatchet job. Read morePublished on June 26, 2012 by Henry Charles
This book is a very fine biography. It is written with sympathetic understanding of its subject, but also with honest criticism. Read morePublished on February 15, 2012 by Shalom Freedman
Mr. Davidson has written an excellent biography of astronomer Carl Sagan with this one. I think the book was written with a fine balance of view on the man. Read morePublished on May 2, 2008 by Marky