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The Planets Paperback – October 31, 2006
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“Playful . . . lyrical . . . a guided tour so imaginative that we forget we’re being educated as we’re being entertained.” —Newsweek
“[Sobel] has outdone her extraordinary talent for keeping readers enthralled. . . . Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter were exciting enough, but The Planets has a charm of its own . . . . A splendid and enticing book.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A sublime journey. [Sobel’s] writing . . . is as bright as the sun and its thinking as star-studded as the cosmos.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“An incantatory serenade to the Solar System. Grade A-” —Entertainment Weekly
“Like Sobel’s [Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter] . . . [The Planets] combines masterful storytelling with clear, engaging explanations of the essential scientific facts.” —Physics World
From the Back Cover
"[The Planets] lets us fall in love with the heavens all over again."
The New York Times Book Review
"Playful . . . lyrical . . . a guided tour so imaginative that we forget were being educated as were being entertained."
" [Sobel] has outdone her extraordinary talent for keeping readers enthralled. . . . Longitude and Galileos Daughter were exciting enough, but The Planets has a charm of its own . . . . A splendid and enticing book."
San Francisco Chronicle
"A sublime journey. [Sobels] writing . . . is as bright as the sun and its thinking as star-studded as the cosmos."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"An incantatory serenade to the Solar System. Grade A-"
"Like Sobels [Longitude and Galileos Daughter] . . . [The Planets] combines masterful storytelling with clear, engaging explanations of the essential scientific facts."
Top customer reviews
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almost pedestrian to us - with the long-ago myths and god-like status given to planets as an explanation for them was sought.
I once interviewed people for a print publication. As any good interviewer knows, the point is not to simply ask a list of questions and check them off. The key is to begin a conversation with the subject. This process takes longer, as what will be the interview must be found in the taped conversation, and as background information about the subject is fitted around his or her words. So, really, this is what Sobel did - she interviewed the solar system.
Although I agree Sobel can be verbose at times, other reviewers have criticized the book's lack of explicit presentation. I think they miss the point. I am not a lay person regarding the subject, but I enjoyed learning about the historically cultural aspects of our neighbors. As one example, Sobel's description of tidal action contains no coefficients, and yet it is an elegant and accessible depiction. This book can be a good starting point for the lay person.
It was worth while getting up to speed on the latest discoveries of Viking, Voyager, Galileo, Cassini and other of our space probes. It was also interesting to read a little background of famous astronomers who dedicated their lives to gazing at the heavens.
Nevertheless, this book lacks the passionate detail of Sobel's other works. Both "Longitude" and "Galileo's Daughter impelled the reader into the historic drama that she was presenting. There is no particular hero in this descriptive book and that may well a problem. It is more a high school reader chockablock full of facts and information. There is no detail, no in-depth analysis, no personality, no drama here. It is, perhaps, too dispassionate a subject for her keen writing skills.
Ms. Sobel has chosen an interesting subject: the solar system. It is surprising how little the average person knows about this conglomeration of an average star (the sun) and nine (or is it eight now?) planets of which our own earth is but a part. Certainly, the reading public is in need of a book to popularize the solar system, so to speak.
It is also true that Ms. Sobel has written an account that is interesting in many ways and definitely up-to-date. The most recent findings of our most traveled probes and deepest-seeing telescopes are recounted here, though it's amazing how quickly even the findings of a few months ago are superseded. Just last week, the discovery of two new moons of Pluto were announced. Already, it is tempting to wonder how this would have changed Ms. Sobel's approach to Pluto and Charon. The sad fact is that this book will soon be out-of-date. Still, it's hard to quibble about something like this, beyond the author's control.
What is not hard to quibble about is Ms. Sobel's approach to her material. Unlike her previous book, this one is more idiosyncratic and personal. The conceits she uses to approach each chapter change. This leads to an uneven experience which depends on how the reader reacts to these conceits. For instance, I very much enjoyed the early chapters which seemed to me to be more personal and drawn from Ms. Sobel's own love of the solar system. On the other hand, I found the chapter on Mars--told from the point of view of a Mars meteorite found on earth--and the chapter on Uranus & Neptune--told in the form of a letter by Caroline Herschel--to be irritating. And the light tone of the book as a whole leaves the reader with a sense of only have touched on the solar system superficially when, in fact, there's quite a lot of good information here.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Ms. Sobel and speaking to her briefly a couple days ago. As one would expect, she is charming and intelligent. And this book does have many charms which would likely appeal to someone who knows very little about the solar system; however, as I listened to her speak about The Planets, my only desire was to talk to her about Galileo's Daughter. It's sometimes difficult to be fair about a book when the author's previous books are so excellent; however, when a writer sets the bar high by her own work, she has to expect the expectations of her audience. And the fair judgement of this book is, it is uneven--good in places, less so in others--but still worth a read.
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by Dava Sobel
Acquired: Salvation Army Outlet Store
Hardcover: 288 pages...Read more