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The Planets

A book by Dava Sobel

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Entertaining and informative

  • Sep 15, 2010
If John Lennon were alive today to read Dava Sobel's "The Planets", I've no doubt he would be pleased to call it "a magical mystery tour".

I've always enjoyed reading popular science but, frankly, some of it is turgid, dry-as-dust commentary that is far more soporific than informative. By contrast, Sobel's "The Planets", a whirlwind tour of some of the most fascinating features of our very own solar system, waxes lyrical, indeed, almost poetic at times with the compelling beauty of its prose.

Each chapter, written from a unique imaginative perspective, takes what might otherwise be difficult scientific concepts and weaves them into a narrative that will draw in even the most science-phobic reader with an irresistible urgency and fascination. Sci-Fi, for example, the chapter that lucidly tells us the story of Mars, uses the extraordinarily clever device of narration from the point of view of a Martian meteorite, a piece of Martian rock blasted loose from Mars' surface by an asteroid impact that found its way to earth, landing in an Antarctic icefield over sixteen million years ago.

I don't think I could improve on Newsweek's comment ... "a guided tour so imaginative that we forget we're being educated while we're being entertained."

"The Planets" is highly recommended and adds to a growing body of work that includes the equally entertaining "Longitude" and "Galileo's Daughter".

Paul Weiss

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review by . August 24, 2008
I've read and been delighted by "Longitude" and "Galileo's Daughter" so when I came across "The Planets." I was intrigued and wanted to read it. I knew even before I bought the book that it would be nothing like the other two by Dava Sobel, but by now she has established herself as a great writer and I trusted her and her instincts. If she wanted to take an unorthodox trip across the Solar System, I was all too willing to buy a ticket for the journey. And it was a refreshingly new look at the landscape …
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Starred Review.Sobel's purpose in this lovely and personal volume is to show us the planets as she sees them. Writing in quite a different mode than in her best-sellingLongitudeandGalileo's Daughter,Sobel offers intimate essays inspired by the planets in our solar system, which she describes as "an assortment of magic beans or precious gems in a little private cabinet of wonder—portable, evocative, and swirled in beauty." She frames each essay in a different light, using a particular planet as a stepping stone toward a discussion of larger issues. Her "Jupiter" essay becomes a meditation on astrology, while her essay on the Sun, which relates the actual birth of the universe seemingly ex nihilo, evokes the Genesis account of creation in both its themes and the cadence of its language. Put simply, Sobel's conceits work (even, remarkably, the essay on Mars written from the perspective of a Martian rock) because each beautifully frames its planet. An essay that begins with the story of Sobel's grandmother coming to the United States as an immigrant, for example, sets up the author's musings on the odd nature of Pluto as somewhere in between "planet" and "other." This resonant and eclectic collection—informative, entertaining and poetic—is a joy to read.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 0142001163
ISBN-13: 978-0142001165
Author: Dava Sobel
Genre: Science
Publisher: Penguin
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