I must revise my answer and say that Dava Sobel is one of my favorite authors (FYI, her first name is pronounced "DAVE-uh"). I discovered her when I read Galileo's Daughter (here's my review), and loved her more after reading Longitude (here's my review) . I received The Planets from PBS over a month ago but I refused to start reading it until I got caught up on some of the challenges I'm mired in. The other night I gave up on that and decided to start reading it now - and I'm so glad I did!
Before I tell you about the book, I have to tell you about MY actual copy of the book. It is gorgeous! The photo here doesn't do it justice, believe me. See that black circle in the center, the one with the planet inside? That black circle is a hole in the dust jacket, and the planet is on the actual hard cover of the book. Plus there are stars scattered across the front and back cover under the dust jacket. It really is a lovely book to look at! I'm one of those people who doesn't keep on the dust jacket when I read and it was a pleasant surprise to see the lovely cover hiding underneath.
I've officially declared that Dava Sobel is one of my favorite authors; now I feel like I need to tell you why. Ms. Sobel is a science writer with a poetic bent. She seamlessly blends factual science with amazing stories, poems, and letters, creating books that (to me) are works of art. Elegant is the only word I can think of to describe her writing.
In The Planets she explains the creation of the universe by combining the Biblical Creation account in Genesis with the scientific theory of The Big Bang.* She then goes on to look at each planet in turn, showing how various cultures perceived them throughout time. This book is a amalgam of myths, science, religions, and masterful storytelling. I am again in awe of her writing.
The book is full of interesting facts that I may or may not have learned in high school science classes. Either way, the knowledge is new to me now. I drove my husband crazy as I read because every few minutes I'd say "Wow!" or "That's amazing!" or "Hey honey, did you know ...". He wasn't thrilled. Since you - my faithful blog readers - are my captive audience, I'm going to share some of that info with you. I don't want to give too much away because you really should read this book, but here are some (very simplified) things I learned:
Sun: Since the sun is not solid, it spins at varying speeds (the equatorial region spins slower than the polar regions, etc.). This causes "solar winds" that can be extremely violent. NOW I understand all those Star Trek and Stargate episodes where they used "solar sails" to travel through space!In writing this post I found out that Dava Sobel has a wonderful website. If you take a look at it, you'll get a sense of who she is in her books. That elegance I mentioned is apparent in the design of her site; like the covers of her books, her website is quite lovely to look at. You can also listen to the author discuss this book on NPR at this link.
Mercury: The MESSENGER space craft was launched in 2004 and just started reporting its findings this year. You can get updates on discoveries from MESSENGERS home page, this article, and this page.
Venus: All the land formations on this planet are named for ancient goddesses or famous women except for one mountain range ... it was named after a man.
Mars: This chapter is told from the point of view of a Mars rock ... a fascinating perspective.
Jupiter: This planet radiates more heat out into the atmosphere than it receives from the sun.
PS. Is there anyone else out there who thinks that Tycho Brahe is a fantastic name? I just love to say it out loud: "Tycho Brahe". Lovely! (FYI, he's a Danish astronomer from the 1500s and the author mentions him once or twice in the book.)
* This is by no means a Biblically based look at our universe though. The author was going more for the poetry of the story and how it ties in with scientific theory.
As always, if you've reviewed this book (or any others by Dava Sobel!) I'm happy to post your link here:
An Adventure in Reading
The 3 R's