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Book Reviews


Carl Sagan: A Biography
Authors: Ray Spangenburg and Kit Moser

Publisher:Prometheus Books

ISBN: 978-1-59102-658-7

Price: £14.50 (Pb), 181pp


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Carl Sagan was an amazing person; a tremendous scientist and the best populariser of science that has ever lived. He was a complex man, steeped in scientific rigour and yet possessing a great imagination, whose quest to explore the planets and search for life sometimes got in the way of his personal life, at least until he met his third wife, Ann Druyan.

Sagan’s story is one of wonder, the wonder that he himself found in the Universe, so it would be hard to write a bad biography of the great man. Spangenburg and Moser have certainly chronicled the major events of Sagan’s life, from his time growing up in Brooklyn, his tutelage under such diverse mentors as Gerard Kuiper and Herman Muller, his first forays into planetary science and SETI, his marriages, and of course his popular science work that culminated in the television series Cosmos, and the novel and Hollywood movie Contact.

However, I felt something was missing whilst reading this biography (which has been published before in 2004 by Greenwood Press). First, it is too short. It makes an excellent Sunday afternoon read for a couple of hours, but I would have preferred the biographers to have gone into greater detail about Sagan’s exploits and his life. There also seems to be a lack of editing in places. We get the build-up to Mariner 2’s voyage to Venus, where it would prove Sagan’s theory about the runaway greenhouse effect and confirm his status as a top astronomer, but we don’t get the pay-off. Also, Gentry Lee is just called ‘Lee’ on his first appearance, and I had to check the index to see who they were talking about.

Still, it is Carl Sagan and the biographers have done such a good job in capturing his style that at times I could almost hear Sagan narrating his own life story. I definitely recommend picking this up along with the recent release of Cosmos on DVD so you can share in Sagan’s wonder of the Universe.

Keith Cooper

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.
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Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
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Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!
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Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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