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How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming Hardcover – December 7, 2010
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A Letter from Author Mike Brown
From Bookmarks Magazine
Though several reviewers admitted a grudge against Brown for picking off plucky underdog Pluto, they found his memoir a charming account of a scientist’s life and work. Given Brown’s popularity as an instructor and lecturer at Caltech, it is perhaps unsurprising that his book is accessible and enlightening. Critics were less certain about Brown’s decision to include so much of his personal life in the book. None actually said that Brown’s interludes about becoming a husband and father detracted from his story, but a few asked what they really added. Others, though, felt that this personal perspective perfectly rounded out Brown’s account of how he and his discoveries reshaped the solar system.
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, it was an incredible book that I found hard to put down at night. It does lay out a riveting discovery story along with the story of a life. It also did a good job of explaining why Dr. Brown believes that there are only 8 planets. And it does have some scientific appeal and nearly pulled me it. Fortunately, when I discussed this with my daughter (almost 6) she told me I was wrong on Pluto was a planet.
Yes, I still believe Pluto deserves to be called a planet. And I will always refer to it as a planet. But it was still a great read.
This book is written by Mike Brown, the discoverer of several large Kuiper Belt Objects, notably Eris/"Xena", a Pluto sized object, and gives us the inside story of how this great scientific discovery was made. It turns out that hard work using the right tools was what made the difference, not luck or genius. It also contains personal stories and stories about the politics of astronomy. The family life accounts work well to illustrate how life and science depend on each other, and are entertaining.
The vocabulary isn't difficult, and there are no equations. Mathematical and physical concepts are explained in a way that people with no background in the subjects can understand.
Even if I already knew the ending, the book was hard to put down, I had to know all the details of this exciting story. I finished the whole thing in two days. I also learned from it, not just from the text itself, but it inspired me to read more about the Kuiper Belt.
The only negative thing I can say, is that not all of the ethymological explanations are excact, particularly for the weekdays, but I'm nitpicking now.
Highly recommended for a light read on the history of the discovery of the Kuiper Belt.
Brown's book brings the reader inside the world of high stakes astronomy and the workings of the International Astronomical Union. More importantly, Brown educates readers about how planets are discovered and whether or not these discoveries should be immediately announced.
Most crucially, Brown explains why Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status. I've always felt badly about this decision (as Brown notes, I was one of the many who asked "What did Pluto ever do to *you*?), but I must agree with his arguments as to why the reclassification makes sense. (One quibble: I'm not sure whether Brown has presented the views of Pluto's defenders accurately. If he has, they don't have much of a scientific leg to stand on, even if they are the sentimental favorites.)
If you're a Pluto devotee, this memoir will likely make you more comfortable with Pluto's downgrade. But even if it doesn't, it's a treat to meet Mike Brown, his devoted colleagues and the family he treasures: wife Diane Binney and daughter Lilah. Brown is not only informative, he's a deft writer, a keen observer and downright funny.
What is a planet, anyway? That's a tough question, one that's boggled great minds and those of us who are simply curious about planets in general. The latest controversy (and, no, it's not the only one in history) came about not so very long ago when the experts began to wonder if Pluto really was a planet. The world certainly knew it as one but it had fallen on hard times when it was discovered over a number of years that it's just not very big. In fact, it's smaller than our own moon. In fact there are a number of moons that are larger than our own moon and yet no one calls them a planet. Well, that's simple: they're orbiting planets so they've got to be moons, right?
Maybe, kinda, well, hmmmm. The problem here is how to classify planets or moons for that matter. All of the planets are different. There are different kinds of planets -- terrestrial planets are named after Earth (terra) and include Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars; then there are the Jovian ones, named after Jupiter (Jove). Terrestrial planets are rocky ones, Jovians are the gasbags -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -- and yet all of them are very different. Earth has oceans, the other terrestrials don't. Jupiter is bigger than all the other planets combined.
And now we have Dwarf Planets, but they decided that they are NOT really planets, though the word is included.
Very puzzling indeed. Real planets, like the original 8 (NOT Pluto, not anymore!) are the ones that have a "dominant effect" on the solar system. I would never argue that Jupiter is anything but a major player around here what with its powerful gravitational field and all. But Mercury? It's small, hard to see oftentimes, and poses very little threat. The lesser stuff, those non-planets like asteroids and such that may get hurled in our direction to cause mass destruction (if and when they hit us) or joy (like when they run into Jupiter) seem a much more dominant effect to me.
I could go on and on and on but I wouldn't help you understand. But I'm happy to report that this book is not only good at explaining these problems but is very readable and even well-rounded -- we hear a lot about his young daughter who was a newborn baby when he got involved with the Pluto controversy and who actually communicated through sign language before she could speak. And she likes planets. Now THAT's a good kid! And you'll also learn about just how hard it is to find out about those faraway bodies that Dr. Brown and his colleagues are discovering -- we still really don't know how big Pluto truly is (though we'll get a better handle on it New Horizons spacecraft has just reached it).
A very good book, indeed! Another related one is "The Pluto Files" by Neil deGrasse Tyson.