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by Carl Sagan

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This visually stunning book with over 250 full-color illustrations, many of them never before published, is based on Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part television series. Told with Sagan’s remarkable ability to make scientific ideas both comprehensible and exciting, Cosmos is about science in its broadest human context, how science and civilization grew up…  See more details below


This visually stunning book with over 250 full-color illustrations, many of them never before published, is based on Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part television series. Told with Sagan’s remarkable ability to make scientific ideas both comprehensible and exciting, Cosmos is about science in its broadest human context, how science and civilization grew up together.

The book also explores spacecraft missions of discovery of the nearby planets, the research in the Library of ancient Alexandria, the human brain, Egyptian hieroglyphics, the origin of life, the death of the Sun, the evolution of galaxies and the origins of matter, suns and worlds.

Sagan retraces the fifteen billion years of cos-mic evolution that have transformed matter into life and consciousness, enabling the Cosmos to wonder about itself. He considers the latest findings on life elsewhere and how we might communicate with the beings of other worlds.

Cosmos is the story of our long journey of discovery and the forces and individuals who helped to shape modern science, including Democritus, Hypatia, Kepler, Newton, Huy-gens, Champollion, Lowell and Humason. Sagan looks at our planet from an extra-terrestrial vantage point and sees a blue jewel-like world, inhabited by a lifeform that is just beginning to discover its own unity and to ven-ture into the vast ocean of space.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Staff
In celebration of its 75th anniversary, Random House has reissued in hardcover with their original cover art select titles that have withstood the test of time. This special edition of Cosmos by the late Carl Sagan remains one of the best-known and best-loved descriptions of our universe -- a wonderful addition to any library of classics.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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7.88(w) x 9.97(h) x 0.99(d)

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Chapter I

The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean

The first men to be created and formed were called the Sorcerer of Fatal Laughter, the Sorcerer of Night, Unkempt, and the Black Sorcerer . . . They were endowed with intelligence, they succeeded in knowing all that there is in the world. When they looked, instantly they saw all that is around them, and they contemplated in turn the arc of heaven and the round face of the earth . . . [Then the Creator said]: “They know all . . . what shall we do with them now? Let their sight reach only to that which is near; let them see only a little of the face of the earth! . . . Are they not by nature simple creatures of our making? Must they also be gods?”

—The Popol Vuh of the Quiché Maya

The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.

—T. H. Huxley, 1887

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

Those explorations required skepticism and imagination both. Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere. Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. The Cosmos is rich beyond measure—in elegant facts, in exquisite interrelationships, in the subtle machinery of awe.

The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. From it we have learned most of what we know. Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows this is from where we came. We long to return. These aspirations are not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods may be.

The dimensions of the Cosmos are so large that using familiar units of distance, such as meters or miles, chosen for their utility on Earth, would make little sense. Instead, we measure distance with the speed of light. In one second a beam of light travels 186,000 miles, nearly 300,000 kilometers or seven times around the Earth. In eight minutes it will travel from the Sun to the Earth. We can say the Sun is eight light-minutes away. In a year, it crosses nearly ten trillion kilometers, about six trillion miles, of intervening space. That unit of length, the distance light goes in a year, is called a light-year. It measures not time but distances—enormous distances.

The Earth is a place. It is by no means the only place. It is not even a typical place. No planet or star or galaxy can be typical, because the Cosmos is mostly empty. The only typical place is within the vast, cold, universal vacuum, the everlasting night of intergalactic space, a place so strange and desolate that, by comparison, planets and stars and galaxies seem achingly rare and lovely. If we were randomly inserted into the Cosmos, the chance that we would find ourselves on or near a planet would be less than one in a billion trillion trillion (1033, a one followed by 33 zeroes). In everyday life such odds are called compelling. Worlds are precious.

From an intergalactic vantage point we would see, strewn like sea froth on the waves of space, innumerable faint, wispy tendrils of light. These are the galaxies. Some are solitary wanderers; most inhabit communal clusters, huddling together, drifting endlessly in the great cosmic dark. Before us is the Cosmos on the grandest scale we know. We are in the realm of the nebulae, eight billion light-years from Earth, halfway to the edge of the known universe.

A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars—billions upon billions of stars. Every star may be a sun to someone. Within a galaxy are stars and worlds and, it may be, a proliferation of living things and intelligent beings and spacefaring civilizations. But from afar, a galaxy reminds me more of a collection of lovely found objects—seashells, perhaps, or corals, the productions of Nature laboring for aeons in the cosmic ocean.

There are some hundred billion (1011) galaxies, each with, on the average, a hundred billion stars. In all the galaxies, there are perhaps as many planets as stars, 1011 × 1011 = 1022, ten billion trillion. In the face of such overpowering numbers, what is the likelihood that only one ordinary star, the Sun, is accompanied by an inhabited planet? Why should we, tucked away in some forgotten corner of the Cosmos, be so fortunate? To me, it seems far more likely that the universe is brimming over with life. But we humans do not yet know. We are just beginning our explorations. From eight billion light-years away we are hard pressed to find even the cluster in which our Milky Way Galaxy is embedded, much less the Sun or the Earth. The only planet we are sure is inhabited is a tiny speck of rock and metal, shining feebly by reflected sunlight, and at this distance utterly lost.

But presently our journey takes us to what astronomers on Earth like to call the Local Group of galaxies. Several million light-years across, it is composed of some twenty constituent galaxies. It is a sparse and obscure and unpretentious cluster. One of these galaxies is M31, seen from the Earth in the constellation Andromeda. Like other spiral galaxies, it is a huge pinwheel of stars, gas and dust. M31 has two small satellites, dwarf elliptical galaxies bound to it by gravity, by the identical law of physics that tends to keep me in my chair. The laws of nature are the same throughout the Cosmos. We are now two million light-years from home.

Beyond M31 is another, very similar galaxy, our own, its spiral arms turning slowly, once every quarter billion years. Now, forty thousand light-years from home, we find ourselves falling toward the massive center of the Milky Way. But if we wish to find the Earth, we must redirect our course to the remote outskirts of the Galaxy, to an obscure locale near the edge of a distant spiral arm.

Our overwhelming impression, even between the spiral arms, is of stars streaming by us—a vast array of exquisitely self-luminous stars, some as flimsy as a soap bubble and so large that they could contain ten thousand Suns or a trillion Earths; others the size of a small town and a hundred trillion times denser than lead. Some stars are solitary, like the Sun. Most have companions. Systems are commonly double, two stars orbiting one another. But there is a continuous gradation from triple systems through loose clusters of a few dozen stars to the great globular clusters, resplendent with a million suns. Some double stars are so close that they touch, and starstuff flows between them. Most are as separated as Jupiter is from the Sun. Some stars, the supernovae, are as bright as the entire galaxy that contains them; others, the black holes, are invisible from a few kilometers away. Some shine with a constant brightness; others flicker uncertainly or blink with an unfaltering rhythm. Some rotate in stately elegance; others spin so feverishly that they distort themselves to oblateness. Most shine mainly in visible and infrared light; others are also brilliant sources of X-rays or radio waves. Blue stars are hot and young; yellow stars, conventional and middle-aged; red stars, often elderly and dying; and small white or black stars are in the final throes of death. The Milky Way contains some 400 billion stars of all sorts moving with a complex and orderly grace. Of all the stars, the inhabitants of Earth know close-up, so far, but one.

Each star system is an island in space, quarantined from its neighbors by the light-years. I can imagine creatures evolving into glimmerings of knowledge on innumerable worlds, every one of them assuming at first their puny planet and paltry few suns to be all that is. We grow up in isolation. Only slowly do we teach ourselves the Cosmos.

Some stars may be surrounded by millions of lifeless and rocky worldlets, planetary systems frozen at some early stage in their evolution. Perhaps many stars have planetary systems rather like our own: at the periphery, great gaseous ringed planets and icy moons, and nearer to the center, small, warm, blue-white, cloud-covered worlds. On some, intelligent life may have evolved, reworking the planetary surface in some massive engineering enterprise. These are our brothers and sisters in the Cosmos. Are they very different from us? What is their form, biochemistry, neurobiology, history, politics, science, technology, art, music, religion, philosophy? Perhaps someday we will know them.

We have now reached our own backyard, a light-year from Earth. Surrounding our Sun is a spherical swarm of giant snowballs composed of ice and rock and organic molecules: the cometary nuclei. Every now and then a passing star gives a tiny gravitational tug, and one of them obligingly careens into the inner solar system. There the Sun heats it, the ice is vaporized, and a lovely cometary tail develops.

We approach the planets of our system, largish worlds, captives of the Sun, gravitationally constrained to follow nearly circular orbits, heated mainly by sunlight. Pluto, covered with methane ice and accompanied by its solitary giant moon Charon, is illuminated by a distant Sun, which appears as no more than a bright point of light in a pitch-black sky. The giant gas worlds, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn—the jewel of the solar system—and Jupiter all have an entourage of icy moons. Interior to the region of gassy planets and orbiting icebergs are the warm, rocky provinces of the inner solar system. There is, for example, the red planet Mars, with soaring volcanoes, great rift valleys, enormous planet-wide sandstorms, and, just possibly, some simple forms of life. All the planets orbit the Sun, the nearest star, an inferno of hydrogen and helium gas engaged in thermonuclear reactions, flooding the solar system with light.

Finally, at the end of all our wanderings, we return to our tiny, fragile, blue-white world, lost in a cosmic ocean vast beyond our most courageous imaginings. It is a world among an immensity of others. It may be significant only for us. The Earth is our home, our parent. Our kind of life arose and evolved here. The human species is coming of age here. It is on this world that we developed our passion for exploring the Cosmos, and it is here that we are, in some pain and with no guarantees, working out our destiny.

Welcome to the planet Earth—a place of blue nitrogen skies, oceans of liquid water, cool forests and soft meadows, a world positively rippling with life. In the cosmic perspective it is, as I have said, poignantly beautiful and rare; but it is also, for the moment, unique. In all our journeying through space and time, it is, so far, the only world on which we know with certainty that the matter of the Cosmos has become alive and aware. There must be many such worlds scattered through space, but our search for them begins here, with the accumulated wisdom of the men and women of our species, garnered at great cost over a million years. We are privileged to live among brilliant and passionately inquisitive people, and in a time when the search for knowledge is generally prized. Human beings, born ultimately of the stars and now for a while inhabiting a world called Earth, have begun their long voyage home.

The discovery that the Earth is a little world was made, as so many important human discoveries were, in the ancient Near East, in a time some humans call the third century b.c., in the greatest metropolis of the age, the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Here there lived a man named Eratosthenes. One of his envious contemporaries called him “Beta,” the second letter of the Greek alphabet, because, he said, Eratosthenes was second best in the world in everything. But it seems clear that in almost everything Eratosthenes was “Alpha.” He was an astronomer, historian, geographer, philosopher, poet, theater critic and mathematician. The titles of the books he wrote range from Astronomy to On Freedom from Pain. He was also the director of the great library of Alexandria, where one day he read in a papyrus book that in the southern frontier outpost of Syene, near the first cataract of the Nile, at noon on June 21 vertical sticks cast no shadows. On the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, as the hours crept toward midday, the shadows of temple columns grew shorter. At noon, they were gone. A reflection of the Sun could then be seen in the water at the bottom of a deep well. The Sun was directly overhead.

It was an observation that someone else might easily have ignored. Sticks, shadows, reflections in wells, the position of the Sun—of what possible importance could such simple everyday matters be? But Eratosthenes was a scientist, and his musings on these commonplaces changed the world; in a way, they made the world. Eratosthenes had the presence of mind to do an experiment, actually to observe whether in Alexandria vertical sticks cast shadows near noon on June 21. And, he discovered, sticks do.

Eratosthenes asked himself how, at the same moment, a stick in Syene could cast no shadow and a stick in Alexandria, far to the north, could cast a pronounced shadow. Consider a map of ancient Egypt with two vertical sticks of equal length, one stuck in Alexandria, the other in Syene. Suppose that, at a certain moment, each stick casts no shadow at all. This is perfectly easy to understand—provided the Earth is flat. The Sun would then be directly overhead. If the two sticks cast shadows of equal length, that also would make sense on a flat Earth: the Sun’s rays would then be inclined at the same angle to the two sticks. But how could it be that at the same instant there was no shadow at Syene and a substantial shadow at Alexandria?

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Cosmos 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
Pandaocalypse More than 1 year ago
Everything about this book is fascinating! Carl Sagan provides great facts and EXCELLENT food for thought as he ponders life's mysteries. A great thing about this book is that it IS filled with lots of information, but the way Carl Sagan presents it makes it easier to understand and he even put foot notes about how certain scientific numbers were calculated, for those who like seeing HOW things are done. Over all this book is one of the best I've read and I personally think everyone should read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most influencial book I have ever read. Sagan leads us across time and space, showing the evolution of thought and mankind. He is a prophet of science and nature, showing us that we are all part of the matter and the spaces between of the Universe.
-NICK- More than 1 year ago
In Cosmos, Carl Sagan takes you on an incredible journey through time and through space. Few sections of science go ignored in this book even though each topic is covered thoroughly and intelligibly. Along with the many relevant facts, Sagan gives his thoughtful analysis and insight to make everything crystal clear. What I most like about Cosmos is how the knowledge introduced is done so in a poetic way which spices it up from being like a textbook and makes it seem like a work of art. Furthermore, Sagan's delivery instigates very profound and spectacular thought of the wonder of how the world works and how well humanity could exist compared to the present. This book is seriously full of mind blowing information that is just plain fun to think about. The most endearing part of this book is how it is written with so much heart, passion, and fervor. If there is anything to complain about it'd be that some parts require numerous re-readings to fully comprehend as some of the concepts are so difficult to grasp. If you are thinking about reading this book then you must. You learn so much from this book and as the adage goes, "knowledge is power". All joking aside, this is a really enjoyable book because it really makes you think and it paints the picture of how beautiful and wonderful the world, the universe, and mere existence are! This book will get a ten out of ten every time in my eyes.
DmT More than 1 year ago
Of all the books I have read, none have made a greater impact on me than Cosmos. In a literary style unmatched by others in his field, Carl Sagan paints a brilliant portrait of our Universe, giving the details on every little subject, which for me is a relief. Sagan's views on the everyday stretch farther than the average person, as compellingly demonstrated in this book. It is non fiction, but in a style all its own, and while reading i could not help but smile, knowing such writing still exists. Explaining to us both the great mysteries hidden in the ocean of space, and the tragic and triumphant pst of the human race, I was at the heart of it all, humbled, by the sheer wonder and awe which lay on each page. This book is not for all readers, but I greatly encourage everyone to at least attempt to read it. It is one of the great pieces of literary science
AmoghJ More than 1 year ago
Cosmos is just fantastic! This definitely is a 5 star book. In Cosmos Carl Sagan takes one on a ride through the universe and all of its perplexities including time and evolution. He discusses Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity as well as topics on how the universe came to be. Additionally¸ the amazing voyages of various spacecraft such as the Voyager are discussed and of course the witty personal life of Carl Sagan are discussed as well. Furthermore, Sagan tells his readers about his viewpoint on extraterrestrial life, which is that the largeness of the universe permits the existence of thousands of alien civilizations but no credible evidence exists to demonstrate that such life exists. Sagan also explores the anthropological, cosmological, and biological matters from long ago until modern day times. Lastly, future speculations of science are discussed. Throughout this book there are many features I like, while there are many that I do not. One thing that I find appealing about this book is the way Carl Sagan explains theories such as Relativity, makes it such that the reader understands the topic easily and in its entirety. In addition, I like how Carl Sagan weaves historical events and science together. This just adds “flavor” to the book instead of just being straight-up science facts. Another thing I find interesting about this book is the mixing of Sagan’s life events with science fact. Once again, this just adds flavor to the book so it is not just facts. Lastly, one thing I found extremely interesting was Sagan’s tone. He uses a very casual tone, like he is making conversation to his reader. He uses this to his advantage, so that he does not sound like a textbook. On the other hand, there are many things about this book that I was disappointed in. One major thing was sometimes the amount of philosophical and political rants from Carl Sagan were too much, and in the end they took away from what this book had to offer. Also, on rare occasions Sagan would go on random tangents that weren’t related to the topic. While sometimes they were humorous, when there were too many this also took away from what the book had to offer. While this book was written to gain the attention of the average person, that person should definitely have a mindset in order to really enjoy this book. One should have an interest in science whether it be very small, because even though Carl Sagan explains topics in a way most people can understand, if they are not interested they will probably get very bored. Without a doubt Cosmos is utterly fantastic and makes one ponder about the universe and the strange yet fascinating events that occur in it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Wonderful Journey Through Time And Space In this book Carl Sagan takes you across the universe. He takes you from the beginning of time and matter to the distant future billions of years from now. He captures your imagination with astonishing facts and keeps you engrossed until the last page. At first you learn all about the history of science, every significant experiment and contribution there ever was. He gives you in depth detail about little known facts from 2000 years ago, and you learn how surprising facts were discovered. He goes on to explain everything about the universe from black holes, stars, the big bang, and anything else you can think of. One of the major themes is how exceptionally rare and precious life really is. The dangers of nuclear war are constantly addressed as well as how important it is to look for life beyond Earth. Sagan does an amazing job of illustrating how insignificant humans are in size, but how special and unique they are. I loved how much you learned and how effortlessly Carl Sagan could explain quasars and theorems and how a black hole forms. I would recommend this to any inquisitive person, and anyone who wonders about space. The book can feel like a list of facts at parts, and I wouldn’t suggest this book for anyone who likes adventure tales or books you fly through in a day because this book will make you stop and think. Overall I think everyone would benefit from reading this book and it’s hard not to gasp when you read about light speed, and the possibility of meeting other life forms. I would give this book five stars and it is absolutely one of the best books I have ever read. If you want to be excited and shocked and breath taken all at the same time, then this is the book for you.
The_Unelegant_Tyler More than 1 year ago
Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is a wonderful journey, not just through space, but throughout time, as horrendously cheesy as it may sound. At first glance, one might assume that the book is pertinent only to outer space as we see it right now, but this is not the case. Cosmos is restricted to neither modern times nor astronomy, instead opting to explore nearly everything along those spectrums. This means that science as a whole is overviewed throughout history, including the implications it carries about human nature, the planet we live on, and what lies beyond. Cosmos challenges readers themselves to challenge things that are often taken for granted, such as the validity of everything we “know” about the universe, and the methods used to achieve those results. Earth itself is a very large part of Cosmos despite only being a small part of the universe, but with good reason. It is, after all, the planet on which the human race has spent the majority of its lifetime, and our only “permanent” temporary home. And despite this, a major message of Cosmos is the fragility of Earth, the pale blue dot. At this point, the book starts to overlap with politics, specifically the preservation of Earth and her resources, but it never explicitly takes sides, even though we all know in which direction it would go if it did. One thing that should not go unaddressed is this: Cosmos is not for everybody. It is, for all intents and purposes, more theoretical than practical. Joe Schmo may not care about what will happen to humanity millions of years from now, and ultimately, the definition of a Type 2.3 R. Civilization is meaningless to him. Even so, Cosmos also teaches a lesson of humility, rather than making the reader feel self-important and smart for having read it. Arrogance is the downfall of science, which means the downfall of human progress. When you are damn sure that the sun revolves around the Earth because you are among the smartest men of your time, then failure lies in the future of your ideals. Ultimately, Cosmos is more than capable of wowing its audience with descriptions of the scale of the universe and the fantastic possibilities that lie within it, but it takes a more discerning mind to understand what it is teaching you. About Earth, about humanity, about where we’re coming from and where we’re going to. Other recommended works: Just about anything else by Carl Sagan, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene 5/5 stars
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Katie03 More than 1 year ago
I decided to read Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" after reading his wonderful book "Contact." (Much better than the movie!) His descriptions throughout that book were simple enough that I could understand, but not so simple that I felt like I was missing out on the important aspects. "Cosmos" is even better. A science book that is actually interesting, the descriptions and explanations are in-depth and comprehensive, but easy enough for a non-scientist to understand. Although written quite a while ago in terms of science, I feel like this book gives a great basic understanding to many concepts, allowing me to read newer, and more difficult, books. I definitely recommend this for any person who wants a better understanding of the cosmos, especially those with little to no scientific background.
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Jbeck More than 1 year ago
I recall when the Cosmos Series was on television and what a wonderful experience it was. It was my first introduction to Carl Sagan and his warm, welcoming manner and friendly presentation made me a loyal viewer for the entire series. The Book, Cosmos, I purchased for reading for my travels in Italy in celebration of the IYA2009 and it was a perfect choice. Carl Sagan's heart and mind pour our of every page and everything he presents is well within the grasp of even scientifically challenged readers like me. The warmth and human quality of the book make it one i cannot recommend strongly enough. Read it, then read it again. You're welcome. jb
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