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The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet Paperback – December 7, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From Pluto's 1930 discovery to the emotional reaction worldwide to its demotion from planetary status, astrophysicist, science popularizer and Hayden Planetarium director deGrasse Tyson (Death by Black Hole) offers a lighthearted look at the planet. Astronomical calculations predicted the presence of a mysterious and distant Planet X decades before Clyde Tombaugh spotted it in 1930. DeGrasse Tyson speculates on why straw polls show Pluto to be the favorite planet of American elementary school students (for one, Pluto sounds the most like a punch line to a hilarious joke). But Pluto's rock and ice composition, backward rotation and problematic orbit raised suspicions. As the question of Pluto's nature was being debated by scientists, the newly constructed Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Hayden Planetarium quietly but definitively relegated Pluto to the icy realm of Kuiper Belt Objects (cold, distant leftovers from the solar system's formation), raising a firestorm. Astronomers discussed and argued and finally created an official definition of what makes a planet. This account, if a bit Tyson-centric, presents the medicine of hard science with a sugarcoating of lightness and humor. 35 color and 10 b&w illus. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

Review

“An eclectic delight. Readers will laugh at the collection of song lyrics and cartoons inspired by the great Pluto-versy. . . . Smile at the photocopied letters from elementary-school children.” (Fred Burtz - Seattle Times)

“For young and old alike... a riveting book that makes you really care about Pluto.” (Sacramento Book Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (December 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337327
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,203,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alden C. Tombaugh on September 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
My father discovered Pluto in 1930. Neil Tyson's book is an interesting and enlightening history of the discovery and the controversy surrounding the new definition of major Planets and Tyson's decision to omit Pluto from the depiction of our solar system at the new Rose Center in New York. Although I do not agree with all his points of view, I do applaud his endeavors in astronomy, writing and education.
Alden Tombaugh
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Format: Hardcover
Once again, Dr. Tyson engages our minds with a timely topic much grander than our own existence. My [...] science students have been enraptured by this fiery debate. Dr. Tyson is a wonderful "EXPLAINER" who makes science come alive for those with little or no formal education in the field. His writing style is identical to his witty dramatic live lectures. Highly recommended!!
Dr. Tyson... I hope you know how much the younger Americans NEED you to continue your work. Your enthusiasm for science is contagious and that is just what Young America needs to take the reins of scientific research in today's ever-changing world. You are needed and LOVED!!

Mrs. Scarola
Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School
Pembroke Pines, Florida

P.S. My students REALLY want you to come visit us. There's NO SNOW here in SE Florida!
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Format: Kindle Edition
I rate the hardback book with 5 stars, but the kindle edition with only 2 stars because of the missing cartoons, photos, charts and graphics. The essay is still well worth reading, but you will miss a lot if you don't have the graphics. I ended up going to my local bookstore and purchasing the hardback when I realized that the Kindle edition had left out the 35 color illustrations and 10 black and white illustrations. I know that Kindle doesn't show color, but the color illustrations could have been reproduced in gray scale.

It is a great book, but a mediocre kindle edition.
7 Comments 98 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the world's most famous scientists. He is an astrophysicist and a columnist for _Natural History_. In addition to his own research and technical writings, he has written popularizations like _Death by Black Hole_, and he has produced television documentaries on the cosmos. It was as director at the Hayden Planetarium that he inadvertently stepped into one of the biggest scientific controversies of recent years. It had nothing to do with religious antagonism against evolution or a universe more than 6,000 years old. It had nothing to do with global warming. What got the public up in arms against him was a celestial body smaller than Earth's Moon, an icy object five billion miles from the Sun that no one knew for sure existed until its discovery in 1930. Tyson and his team creating an exhibit for the planetarium did not include Pluto in its models of planets. When this was discovered, and when the decision to leave Pluto out was found to be deliberate, Tyson became possibly the most hated astronomer on the planet. In _The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet_ (Norton), he has reported his own role in the controversy. There are serious scientific themes here, but this is a fun book. Tyson doesn't seem like a person who would relish bothering anybody, but he is instead amused by all the fuss, and much of his book is hilarious. Nonetheless, he has used it (always the teacher) to give a history of our knowledge about Pluto, to illustrate the way science handles categories and conflict, and to demonstrate the astonishing difficulties of making a good definition.

The problem of naming things properly, and thereby classifying them, shows up all the time in biology, but is rarer in astronomy.
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Format: Hardcover
A contemporary topic, Pluto's planetary reclassification calamity has been both an emotional and a scientific issue ever since the N.Y. Times revealed that the Rose Center (Hayden Planetarium) had left Pluto out of the planetary lineup. Dr. Tyson has been in the thick of it even before the story broke. His account of the events and colorful comments that ensued is enjoyably portrayed throughout the book. As in his other books, his effervescent writing style makes this book an easy read even though he includes a lot of names and facts pertinent to the history if Pluto and its new status. It is a short 160 page book filled with many color images and illustrations, which allowed me to read it in only one day. Many, if not most, of the images are quite humorous adding to the enjoyment. Young and old will enjoy will enjoy this book!

Regarding the ongoing, though likely diminishing, debate about Pluto's status, I liked his statement, "You're having an argument over something you generate rather than what is fundamental to the universe." Science is about organization of objective discoveries, and subjective views should always play a subordinate roll. This includes those warm fuzzies we feel for certain traditional views, including Pluto's prior rank as planet. Science is not about a consensus of our feelings, but whether or not quality science is being conducted. Dr. Tyson presents the objective evidence of both sides fairly, and gives lucid reasoning for his position, which I suspect most scientifically-minded folks will eventually concur with his views.
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