Friday, December 28, 2007

OMG, I read non-fiction. well, listened...and not by choice....

In her book The Planets, Dava Sobel begins her book by introducing the reader to her own relationship with the planets. After a personal glimpse into the author’s fascination, the reader is more open to the creative writing that follows. Sobel’s essays are well-researched, but her presentation of the astronomical facts is blended with history, biography, mythology, physics, science fiction, astrology, music and literature. Our solar system is centered on the sun, and so are these essays. Beginning with the sun, and proceeding from Mercury to Pluto (with an essay on Earth’s moon added in just before Mars), Sobel shares the known and unknown about each heavenly body. Anecdotes about the scientists and amateurs involved in the discovery of each planet help us imagine how the ideas of humans about the solar system have changed over time, and also help us remember that these ideas will continue to change as we are able to learn more. Each essay is given a unique narrative perspective. For example, the essay “Sci-Fi” is written in the first-person from the perspective of a Martian meteorite and “Night Air” is written in the form of an imagined letter from the daughter of the man who discovered Uranus. As fits a collection celebrating the planets, Sobel’s story concludes at a party where scientists have gathered after the Cassini spacescraft successfully entered Saturn's orbit in 2004.

This delightful book of essays also provides a sound overview of the planets in our solar system. I admit that I don’t read much non-fiction. So when I discover an author who can make something millions of miles away both intriguing and relevant, I am probably more amazed by the experience than someone who regularly espouses the joys of reading narrative non-fiction. My willingness to give this book a try may have been influenced by fact that I was trapped on a long Christmas-time car-trip with my dad and my husband, and this was the only audiobook in the car. That said, Sobel’s other books have interesting titles and I plan to check them out: Longitude: the true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time and Galileo's daughter: a historical memoir of science, faith, and love
I listened to it, 5.5 hours.


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