The Planets

( 7 )


The Sun's family of planets becomes a familiar place in this guided tour of other worlds, Dava Sobel explores the origins and oddities of the planets through the lens of popular culture, from astrology, mythology, and science fiction to art, music, poetry, biography, and history. Whether revealing what lies behind Venus's cocoon of acid clouds or capturing firsthand the excitement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when pictures from Cassini at Saturn are beamed to Earth, this intimate account is filled with ...
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The Planets

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The Sun's family of planets becomes a familiar place in this guided tour of other worlds, Dava Sobel explores the origins and oddities of the planets through the lens of popular culture, from astrology, mythology, and science fiction to art, music, poetry, biography, and history. Whether revealing what lies behind Venus's cocoon of acid clouds or capturing firsthand the excitement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when pictures from Cassini at Saturn are beamed to Earth, this intimate account is filled with fascination, beauty, and surprise.
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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
The Planets has a little something for everyone. Myth, poetry, science fiction, geology, mineralogy, cosmology and even etymology find their way into Ms. Sobel's almost fablelike narratives, which, if you remove a few technical terms, could make splendid bedtime read-aloud material. Each planet has a personality, a face and a rich inner life.
— The New York Times
James Trefil
With one glaring exception, each of these essays is a little gem, telling an interesting story without overwhelming the reader with facts. And each essay is full of what I think of as the "Sobel touch," mingling odd historical coincidences with up-to-the-minute NASA readout of data.
— The Washington Post
Marcia Bartusiak
For newcomers to planetary astronomy, The Planets offers a nimble summary of the latest findings on each planet's features and geology. For those who avidly followed the journeys of the Mariners, Voyagers and Vikings through interplanetary space, it lets us fall in love with the heavens all over again.
— THe New York Times Sunday Book Review
Publishers Weekly
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-selling Longitude and Galileo'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. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (On sale Oct. 11) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Once again, best-selling author Sobel (Galileo's Daughter) brings science to readers across the spectrum. Her writing is vivid and poetic as she looks at each planet, including the sun and moon, from various scientific and cultural perspectives. The chapter on Earth, for example, begins with the story of Ptolemy's attempts at mapmaking in the year 150 C.E.; the chapter on Saturn opens with a discussion of 20th-century composer Gustav Holst and his orchestral suite the The Planets. In each chapter, Sobel deftly weaves together astrology, music, art, popular culture, history, biography, poetry, and science fiction with current knowledge about our solar system. The resulting fabric offers something for all readers, even those who think they might not be interested in science and space. Highly recommended for public libraries of all sizes and smaller academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/05.]-Denise Dayton, Jaffrey Grade Sch., NH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The author's lifelong fascination with our solar system is evident in these essays that blend the latest scientific knowledge with popular culture, mythology, astrology, literature, music, and more. Beginning with the Big Bang and the Sun in Genesis, Sobel presents the nine planets in turn, inviting readers to share her sense of wonder. Each selection begins with a different point of view. In "Sci-Fi," an ancient meteorite talks of the formation and physical nature of Mars; it is followed by an imaginative discussion of the colonization of the planet, including the views of science-fiction writers. "Night Air" begins with a letter from Caroline Herschel, daughter of Uranus discoverer William Herschel, and also his assistant to the American astronomer Maria Mitchell. Readers will probably assume that this is a real letter; not until the "Details" section at the end of the book is it revealed that it is fiction, although factually accurate. The writing is clear and elegant, almost lyrical at times, and the research is thorough. This unique and attractive book will be of interest to both science students and general readers.-Sandy Freund, Richard Byrd Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A brief tour of the solar system, with liberal dollops of scientific history. Sobel's previous books (Galileo's Daughter, 1999, etc.) have tended to focus on a key person associated with an important discovery. Here, each planet provides the anchor for a chapter on astronomy and planet history. Sobel opens by discussing her youthful participation in science fairs as a kid (she built a model solar system) and her visits to planetariums before turning focus on the solar family-beginning with an account of the origin of the sun. She then works outward, planet by planet. Airless Mercury is so close to the sun that its motion could be explained only by Einstein's theories. Venus's thick atmosphere is full of acidic greenhouse gases that raise its temperature to the melting point of lead. The section on Earth includes a history of geography, from Ptolemy through Columbus and Magellan to the seeming certainty of GPS systems, while the section on the Moon covers topics including Moon rocks, which "set a new standard for dryness," and the effect of lunar gravity on ocean tides. The portion on Mars is narrated from the point of view of a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica ("Of the twenty-eight Martian meteorites definitively identified to date, I am by far the most ancient," it explains.) Sobel continues with coverage on gigantic Jupiter, ringed Saturn, the team of Uranus and Neptune and finally distant Pluto, perhaps about to be demoted from full planetary status to membership in a group of comet-like objects. Along the way, Sobel offers amusing observations on astrology. Thoroughly readable: not a dry recitation of facts-though the facts are there-but a lively exploration of the historical andcultural meaning of the planets.
From the Publisher
“Playful . . . lyrical . . . a guided tour so imaginative that we forget we’re being educated as we’re being entertained.” —Newsweek

“[Sobel] has outdone her extraordinary talent for keeping readers enthralled. . . . Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter were exciting enough, but The Planets has a charm of its own . . . . A splendid and enticing book.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“A sublime journey. [Sobel’s] writing . . . is as bright as the sun and its thinking as star-studded as the cosmos.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“An incantatory serenade to the Solar System. Grade A-” —Entertainment Weekly

“Like Sobel’s [Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter] . . . [The Planets] combines masterful storytelling with clear, engaging explanations of the essential scientific facts.” —Physics World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142001165
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 518,218
  • Product dimensions: 5.09 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Dava Sobel is an award-winning former science writer for The New York Times. The author of the bestselling Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, Sobel’s work has also appeared in Audubon, Discover, Life, and The New Yorker.

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Table of Contents

Model worlds : (overview) 1
Genesis : (the sun) 13
Mythology : (Mercury) 29
Beauty : (Venus) 49
Geography : (Earth) 71
Lunacy : (the moon) 99
Sci-Fi : (Mars) 119
Astrology : (Jupiter) 139
Music of the spheres : (Saturn) 161
Night air : (Uranus and Neptune) 177
UFO : (Pluto) 207
Planeteers : (coda) 225
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2005

    What a wonderful book!

    I really enjoyed this book. I had to read a book for my Nature of Science class and the book I initially picked out wasn't cutting it so in a panic I picked up The Planets. I wasn't really expecting much - in fact I thought it was going to be pretty boring. I was pleasently suprised. It was a great book and anyone who has the slighest interest in the solar system will love this book. Dava employs several different writing styles to captiveate her audience. A martain rocks story, the discover of Uranus and Neptune, the search for planet X and Vulcan...

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A lyrical journey through our solar system

    In this series of essays, Sobel weaves together popular culture,discovery and scientific study, and the personalities involved. Her essay span the history of science and world cultures to give a captivating account of our solar system. She truly captures the awe of astronomy. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted January 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Imaginative and engaging

    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 that I thought I had already known all too well and have become a bit jaded with. Part informative, part imaginative this book both entertains and educates. It is well suited for both young and old readers. Each planet gets its own "voice" and is approached and dealt with from a unique point of view. The two works of art - one in fiction one in music - which this book reminds me of are Italo Calvino's "Cosmicomics" and Gustav Holst's "The Planets." Like Calvino and Holst, Dava Sobel possesses a rare gift of imagination and skill to bring a potentially dry subject and weave it into something that entices us and enthralls us. That's why I decided to recommend this book to my college Astronomy class that I teach this year.

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    Posted March 26, 2011

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