The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

Overview

The New York Times bestseller: “You gotta read this. It is the most exciting book about Pluto you will ever read in your life.”—Jon Stewart
When the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History reclassified Pluto as an icy comet, the New York Times proclaimed on page one, “Pluto Not a Planet? Only in New York.” Immediately, the public, professionals, and press were choosing sides over Pluto’s planethood. Pluto is entrenched in our cultural and ...
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The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

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Overview

The New York Times bestseller: “You gotta read this. It is the most exciting book about Pluto you will ever read in your life.”—Jon Stewart
When the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History reclassified Pluto as an icy comet, the New York Times proclaimed on page one, “Pluto Not a Planet? Only in New York.” Immediately, the public, professionals, and press were choosing sides over Pluto’s planethood. Pluto is entrenched in our cultural and emotional view of the cosmos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, award-winning author and director of the Rose Center, is on a quest to discover why. He stood at the heart of the controversy over Pluto’s demotion, and consequently Plutophiles have freely shared their opinions with him, including endless hate mail from third-graders. With his inimitable wit, Tyson delivers a minihistory of planets, describes the oversized characters of the people who study them, and recounts how America's favorite planet was ousted from the cosmic hub.
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Editorial Reviews

Fred Burtz - Seattle Times
“An eclectic delight. Readers will laugh at the collection of song lyrics and cartoons inspired by the great Pluto-versy. . . . Smile at the photocopied letters from elementary-school children.”
Sacramento Book Review
“For young and old alike... a riveting book that makes you really care about Pluto.”
Heller McAlpin - Christian Science Monitor
“Wonderfully entertaining.... Uses an engaging mix of facts, photographs, cartoons, illustrations, songs, e-mails, and humor to explain what's up (and down) with Pluto.... The Pluto Files is positively transporting. Out of this world.”
Publishers Weekly

From Pluto's 1930 discovery to the emotional reaction worldwide to its demotion from planetary status, astrophysicist, science popularizer and Hayden Planetarium director deGrasse Tyson (Death by Black Hole) offers a lighthearted look at the planet. Astronomical calculations predicted the presence of a "mysterious and distant Planet X" decades before Clyde Tombaugh spotted it in 1930. DeGrasse Tyson speculates on why straw polls show Pluto to be the favorite planet of American elementary school students (for one, "Pluto sounds the most like a punch line to a hilarious joke"). But Pluto's rock and ice composition, backward rotation and problematic orbit raised suspicions. As the question of Pluto's nature was being debated by scientists, the newly constructed Rose Center for Earth and Space at the Hayden Planetarium quietly but definitively relegated Pluto to the icy realm of Kuiper Belt Objects (cold, distant leftovers from the solar system's formation), raising a firestorm. Astronomers discussed and argued and finally created an official definition of what makes a planet. This account, if a bit Tyson-centric, presents the medicine of hard science with a sugarcoating of lightness and humor. 35 color and 10 b&w illus. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Many blame astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Tyson (Death by Black Hole) for the International Astronomy Union's demotion of Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006. Here, he tells his tale while exploring the history of planet classification and Americans' fervid interest in Pluto's status. At first, actor/narrator Mirron Willis's (Basketball Jones) reading is a bit slow, but he relaxes more as the story progresses to a discussion of our love affair with Pluto; he successfully gets Tyson's often tongue-and-cheek tone across to the listener. An enjoyable title on a topic having broad appeal. [Audio clip available through www.blackstoneaudio.com; the review of the Norton hc credited Tyson with "expertly relat[ing] the history and science of Pluto and its discovery," LJ12/08.-Ed.]
—Emma Duncan

The Barnes & Noble Review
When New York's American Museum of Natural History rebuilt its Rose Center for Earth and Space, its staff of astrophysicists, after much discussion, decided to exclude Pluto from the area displaying models of the planets, grouping it instead with the growing number of icy objects being discovered beyond Neptune. The reclassification remained largely unnoticed until a year after the 2000 opening, when The New York Times published a front-page story headlined "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York." Author Neil deGrasse Tyson, the center's director, writes that the ensuing media frenzy made him "public enemy of Pluto lovers the world over." In this irreverent, entertaining, yet substantive book, Tyson traces the short history of Planet Pluto, from its 1930 discovery by an Illinois farm boy and amateur astronomer to the 2006 vote by the International Astronomical Union to demote it to "dwarf planet" status. As Tyson suggests, the debate was not just scientific but also cultural: adults clung to the planetary sequence they had memorized in their youth, while schoolchildren reliably claimed Pluto as their favorite planet, perhaps because it shares a name with a beloved Disney character (the heavily illustrated book includes reproductions of outraged letters Tyson received from kids). In the end, vindicated by the IAU, Tyson makes a compelling case for freeing ourselves from Pluto nostalgia, arguing that "the rote exercise of planet counting rings hollow and impedes the inquiry of a vastly richer landscape of science drawn from all that populates our cosmic environment." --Barbara Spindel
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393350364
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/2/2014
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 974,694

Meet the Author

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, a monthly columnist for Natural History, and an award-winning author. He has begun production of a new Cosmos series, premiering in early 2013. He lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

1 Pluto in Culture 3

2 Pluto in History 21

3 Pluto in Science 33

4 Pluto's Fall from Grace 49

5 Pluto Divides the Nation 95

6 Pluto's Judgment Day 115

7 Pluto the Dwarf Planet 131

8 Pluto in the Elementary School Classroom: A Personal Recommendation for Educators 151

9 Plutologue 157

App. A Pluto Data (2008) 161

App. B "Planet X" (complete lyrics by Christine Lavin) 162

App. C "I'm Your Moon" (complete lyrics by Jonathan Coulton) 167

App. D "Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore" (complete lyrics by Jeff Mondak and Alex Stangl) 169

App. E Official Media Response from the Author Regarding the Rose Center's Exhibit Treatment of Pluto 171

App. F Resolution of the International Astronomical Union on the Definition of a Planet 175

App. G New Mexico Legislation Relative to Pluto's Planetary Status 177

App. H California Legislation Relative to Pluto's Planetary Status 179

Bibliography 181

Index 187

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