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Book Reviews


A Passion for Mars

Author: Andrew Chaikin

Publisher: Abrams

ISBN: 978 0810972742

Price: £19.99 (Hb), 279pp


Passion for Mars
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'Never judge a book by its cover' as the old saying goes. When I first saw the book, the 'wow' factor was certainly there. The picture of Mars and the map on the endpapers was eye-catching. The contents of the book did not disappoint either and I found it difficult to put down at times. Its focus is the story of the exploration of Mars and the people who were involved. It is a departure from the usual genre of astronomy book and I found this refreshing and fascinating. It is written in a very clear and readable style and does not discuss or introduce many scientific or geological concepts and can be enjoyed by non-scientists. It also has chapters covering the view of Mars through science fiction, space art, and early telescopic observations and has a chapter on modern imaging techniques. The chapter 'Not Your Mother's Mars' emphasises how our understanding of Mars has advanced a lot and yet there are still more questions than answers.

Andrew Chaikin is very well qualified to write the book, having worked on the Viking mission and held several senior editorial positions for magazines. His best-known previous book was A Man on the Moon – the result of a full eight years research into the Apollo programme. I haven't read it but, judging by A Passion for Mars, it is now high on my 'to read' list. He refers to the Apollo missions in this book but this was very relevant, as many Apollo veterans worked on Viking and subsequent Mars missions. Although of a similar generation to Chaikin, I learned from his book that image processing software had been around as early as the Viking days and that, because of internal politics within NASA, that exploration of Mars nearly didn't happen at all.

I found one minor mistake, where it suggests that Galileo invented the telescope but that hardly diminishes the quality of the book in any way. Whilst no single book can tell the whole story of Mars and critics may argue as to why some topics were covered at the expense of others, his genuine enthusiasm for the subject and admiration of the people who made Mars history is infectious. He concludes with the view that a manned mission to Mars is unlikely to happen in his lifetime.

Philip Pugh

 

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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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