There are two ironies here. Despite Carl Sagan's extraordinary success in science and his consummate skill as a popular writer of science, his greatest name recognition is a consequence of a parody. Sagan was a frequent guest on the Tonight show starring Johnny Carson., and Johnny often did sketches mimicking him where he used the phrase "billions and billions", with particular emphasis on the b's. The second is that even though Carl never uttered the phrase, he chose it to be the title of a book written as he was dying of cancer. I have read most of his popular works on science and he is one of the best, on the order of Isaac Asimov or Stephen Jay Gould. In looking back at his career, it is easy to overlook his substantial accomplishments in astronomy. The first time I was exposed to his work was from an article in National Geographic where he was cited for his work in exobiology. My second exposure was when I slogged through the book "Intelligent Life in the Universe" that he wrote in collaboration with I. S. Schlokovskii. Heady reading for a middle school student. While I may not have understood the material, I did recognize the quality of the work. The main theme of this book is the severe environmental problems that this planet currently faces. Despite the reluctance of some to accept the data, there can be little doubt that the planet is heating up and the most logical explanation is human activity. The burning of fossil fuel is pumping enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This gas captures solar energy at a rate far in excess of its true percentage in the atmosphere. In second place is the destruction of the ozone layer, where once again small amounts generate a cascading effect far beyond the amounts. There is no doubt in my mind that the most significant point in the book is the one he makes about the true price of oil. The United States currently pays a substantial price for oil far in excess of the amount spent up front for each barrel. The extensive military presence that is maintained in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other middle Eastern nations has cost many American lives, to say nothing of the expense of extricating Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Were it not for the black gold, these nations would rarely if ever make the evening news. Other less obvious costs are the environmental destruction, which in combination could send the total costs to over eighty dollars a barrel. His points about renewable energy currently being cheaper than oil are sound, but still largely unheeded. However, it is possible that the current energy crisis in the Western states may make it more attractive again. Sagan writes with great skill and clarity. As he was dying, he continued to write about what was the real passion in his life, the future of humans and how fragile we are in our strength. I read this book with sadness, hope and a sense of frustration. A great man was lost when he died. However, let us hope that his prophesies of environmental danger prove to be wrong, as we show that we can construct solutions to the problems we have created.
Whether or not you really understand science or cosmology, Sagan speaks to you. He covers topics from global warming to the Persian chessboard and much, much more. However, Carl Sagan was very ill while writing the last chapter of this book. He was actually writing it out of his hospital room, in Washington, I believe. His objective and beautiful perspective on his own death was probably one of the most touching things I've ever read.
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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It is doubtful that there is anyone unfamiliar with noted astronomer and science writer Sagan's ability to convey the wonder, excitement, and joy of science. This book is a wonderful, if eclectic, collection of essays, some reprinted from magazines of national prominence, covering a wide range of topics: the invention of chess, life on Mars, global warming, abortion, international affairs, the nature of government, and the meaning of morality. Writing with clarity and an understanding of human nature, Sagan offers hope for humanity's future as he illuminates our ability to understand ourselves and to change the world for the better. The last chapter is an account of his struggle with myelodysplasia, the illness that finally took his life in December 1996. An epilog written by his wife is a personal account of the man rather than the scientist admired by so many. This last book is a fitting capstone to a distinguished career. Enthusiastically recommended. -?James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an alternatePaperbackedition.