How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
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How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  3,852 ratings  ·  709 reviews
The solar system most of us grew up with included nine planets, with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto at the outer edge. Then, in 2005, astronomer Mike Brown made the discovery of a lifetime: a tenth planet, Eris, slightly bigger than Pluto. But instead of adding one more planet to our solar system, Brown’s find ignited a firestorm of controversy that culminated in the...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 24th 2012 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2010)
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Poor Pluto
singled out and ridiculed for his diminutive size, kicked out of the Planet Union, and left, weepy and alone, to wander the cold, outer fringes of the solar system with all the other heavenly misfits and riffraff. And who, you ask, was responsible for this astronomical atrocity…
Yep, that’s right...Bill figures.

Okay, it’s really Michael Brown, but you have to admit that the resemblance is spooky.

This book is eminently readable and is about as moist and non-stuffy a “sci...more
Okay, let's start with the disclosures first and get that out of the way. I was sent this book, so I didn't buy it, and I didn't pay for it. Okay? Got it? Good. Now, moving on.

Disclosure number two: I'm not a science buff... or an astronomy buff. I can probably point to the Dippers, maybe Orion on a good day. And, I know the planets by name... My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

Nine.. uhh... what?

So, Pluto is gone. (Didn't figure I needed to brace you for the spoiler.. it IS in the...more
Mike Brown loves the universe. He is also obsessive, modest to a fault, smart and has a wickedly dry sense of humor. This book grabbed me by my imagination and my heart and mind followed. Brown wove his personal story with the astronomical story giving it more resonance (I love the idea of naming a celestial body after one’s wife or daughter). What I really enjoyed were the machinations of the academic community and the side-story of the Spanish astronomer who “stole” his discovery. I know the a...more
Arthur Ryan
If you'd be interested in the love story of a man for his daughter as he watches her progress through the first days of her life, read this. If you're interested in how the contemporary science of astronomy works i, read this. If you'd be interested in a detective story about a team of researchers halfway across the world who nearly stole a major discovery, read this. If you'd be interested in the politics of 'killing' a planet that was accepted as part of the pantheon for more than 70 years, re...more
If you are a science lover, you will definitely enjoy this book. This book, as the title suggests, discusses about a very specific topic about discovering new planets and hence should not be considered as an introductory book on the topic of Astronomy. This book also provides a great insight into Astronomers daily life and their scientific practices. For an Astronomer, Mike Brown is quite funny and interesting.

The book covers good amount of detail about Author's personal life alongside his ques...more
This is perhaps the most entertaining book on astronomy I've ever read. I hesitate to even call it a science book. While there is lots of information on our solar system that I didn't even know, this is more of a personal journey for the author, chronicling his victories and his frustrations in his search for a tenth planet while committing planetary homicide along the way. It is Mike Brown's light humor and witty insight that makes this book work so well.

So what have I learned?

1) Planet demotio...more
When I was in first or second grade, one of my homework assignments was to write about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Since the my previous goal of being a police-person was shot down and laughed at, I had already been thinking on this subject for a lengthy (for a first grader) amount of time. I thought and I thought and finally, I got a great idea. I thought of something that would be fascinating to me a well as praise-worthy to my parents. When I let my parents read my essay entitled "Wha...more
There are several misconceptions here: First, our solar system does NOT have only eight planets. Second, Mike Brown did not “kill” Pluto, and use of this word is extremely misleading and more about Brown’s ego, which he for some reason has centered around calling himself the “plutokiller.” Third, Eris was not discovered by Brown alone but by a team of three astronomers; one of the other two, Dr. David Rabinowitz, disagrees with Brown and signed a petition rejecting the IAU planet definition and...more
Clif Hostetler
Even if Pluto is was your favorite planet (after all, it was named after a cartoon dog!) you will be charmed by this account of a scientists' life and work. From this writing Mike Brown obviously has communication skills which I'm sure makes him a popular instructor and lecturer at Caltech.

This book reminds us that astronomers are people too. In addition to a story about science and discovery, it’s a funny and moving memoir of mixing the astronomy pursuits with personal issues such as courting...more
I actually really enjoyed this book. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, given that I liked the solar system the way it was, thank you very much, and because Pluto is my zodiac sign’s ruling planet (Scorpio, if you were curious, and yes everything you’ve heard is true), and because who the heck comes up with stuff like this anyway? I mean Pluto has been a planet since 1930 or so, so do we not have anything better to do than sit around and wonder if someone made a mistake in 1930? And as...more
Bruce Judisch
Dec 19, 2010 Bruce Judisch rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
It shocked me to realize just over halfway through "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming" that such a book would orbit the top of my short list of all-time favorites. But it did—and it landed closer to the periapsis than the apoapsis. Why?

I’m not a scientist; indeed, my interest in astronomy, while healthy, halts one step short of an emotional attachment to Pluto. Hence, I suppose it was easier, unencumbered by a wounded celestial psyche, to embrace Mike Brown’s story of the stepchild pla...more
Allison Arthur
Any scientist can write about his great discovery. Mike Brown writes about his in a way that makes you want to actually read about it. Instead of going on and on about his findings in scientific terms, he explains astronomy in a way that most middle school students could understand.

He adds interest to the story by not just writing about his discovery and how it changed history but also how it changed himself. He inserts details about his everyday life and how these details had an effect on his...more
Chris Aylott
When I picked his up, I was worried it would be a retread of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's excellent The Pluto Files. It's not. Pluto is just the hook for Brown's memoir of what it's like to be a modern-day astronomer, looking for big things in a solar system that seems (at first) to be mostly explored.

This book is a joy to read, full of wit and cutting-edge science. Brown is a gifted writer who can explain not only what an astronomer does but how he thinks, drawing you into his wonder at the universe a...more
Mike Puma
Nov 15, 2010 Mike Puma marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I, someone who never wins anything, just won a copy of this book. How cool is that? Look forward to reading it and real review to follow. whoohoo!
Chad Sayban
Basically, nine plus one equals eight. Really? In the case of the discovery of the mythical tenth planet…yes! When in 2005, Cal Tech astronomer Mike Brown fulfilled his lifelong goal of finding Eris, a planet slightly larger than Pluto far off on the edge of the solar system, he had no idea the controversy that his discovery would spawn. Stanger yet, Brown was on the side of booting Pluto – along with Eris – out of the planet club. The result was that the normally passive world of astronomy beca...more
I expected this book to be interesting, given that the demotion of Pluto to a dwarf planet a few years ago was a very emotional moment for scientists and laymen alike. This book surpassed my expectations. It it such a great read that for the first time ever, I felt compelled to write a review and recommend the book.

Mike Brown's voice is genuine, down-to-earth, and honest. He does a tremendous job of weaving his personal story into the story of how the solar system ended up with 8 planets. By the...more

For the first few chapters I was going to give this book 2 stars, due to this man being obviously a clueless troglodyte who had no idea how other humans acted.

Then I was going to give it 3 stars for being just OK, but kind of a snooze feast with all this endless definitions and, frankly, boring history.

Ah, but then, then, Brown shows us the living, beating, wounded, happy heart that beats within any human who has fallen in love, and I could practically see the love glowing off the page as he des...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Over the period of several years Mike Brown, an astronomer at CalTech, discovered large objects in the Kupier Belt (the asteroid belt outside of the orbit of Neptune) that led astronomers to consider the question, "What is a planet?" and "What does this mean for Pluto?". It took years, but eventually astronomy's governing body voted in the status of these newly discovered bodies...were they to be considered planets or not...and what does this mean for Pluto, which is of a comparable size and loc...more
"When I was your age, Pluto was a planet."

Perhaps some of us remember the group with that title on Facebook a few years ago. It was one of many reactions, and one of the more lighthearted, to the news that Pluto had been demoted. From now on the solar system had eight planets. Mike Brown is the astronomer who made the discoveries (or led the team making the discoveries) that served as one of the main catalysts for Pluto losing its status. He tells the story in this great book.

I think I learned m...more
An entertaining and informative book by the astronomer who recently discovered three large objects at the outer edge of the solar system, one of which is bigger than Pluto. (Although only slightly, and possibly not any bigger at all, as it turns out.) This prompted the decision by the International Astronomical Union to demote Pluto's status to that of "dwarf planet".

Brown relates some history of our understanding of the solar system - Pluto isn't the first heavenly object to be demoted. He desc...more
A thoroughly enjoyable book. On the down side, on more than one occasion, quite a few actually, I had to go back and reread to make sure I understood what I was reading. This wasn't because it was overly technical or too scientific, it wasn't, but it was stylistically odd in places. Considering his life is focused on the hard sciences and the planets he hopes to find rather than literature (other than in finding resources to name his discoveries), I can't really knock him. On the up side, I love...more
This is a warm and personal book, which is perhaps a little unusual when it comes to writing about science. It's more a memoir than something focused on the science issues: all this makes it an accessible book for anyone, not just people who are really interested in astronomy. It's a little bit humorous, self-deprecating, while still rigorously explaining Mike Brown's methods and intentions.

Given the personal angle, it's probably a little too light for anyone who is particularly knowledgeable ab...more
Ralph McEwen
Mar 25, 2011 Ralph McEwen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ralph by: Cheryl
Mike Brown gives us a thoroughly enjoyable look at astronomy and astronomers. This book is not just about Pluto and its designation as a planet. Mr. Brown takes us quickly through the years of mind boggling tedium required to search the heavens to find undiscovered objects and the hoops and hurdles necessary to receive credit for finding them. After reading this book I understand why Pluto is not planet.
Mitch Marvin
Okay, a five-star rating may be a little excessive, but I was absolutely captivated by this book. The first thing that you have to understand, is that I love astronomy, so this book meant more to me than it would to the average reader. Mike Brown did two great things for me with this book. First, he taught me, as the title suggested, why Pluto is no longer considered a planet, and he helped me to become comfortable with the idea. Second, he taught me about the inner workings of astronomy, and th...more
I read this book based on the recommendation of Goodreads' algorithm, and was not disappointed. It's a lovely memoir by the astronomer who discovered the tenth "planet," which made clear that Pluto never should have been a planet in the first place.

He writes in an accessible way (bordering on patronizing at times, although not usually), and I learned a lot about astronomy research; at the same time, he doesn't dwell on the esoteric aspects. Ultimately what shines through is his tremendous passio...more
This book is a must-read...unless you want to get to the bottom of the Pluto controversy. Still, don’t skip this book...except if you are anxious to learn why Pluto is not a planet. In short, read this book, but not for the titular reason it begs to be read. Pluto is only a supporting character in Dr. Mike Brown’s story.

Read this book because it is a great memoir. Dr. Brown’s tale of hunting for new planets is full of drama and intrigue. If you have ever been fascinated by the high-stakes, ultr...more
I never knew that astronomy could have so much drama and suspense! Here's a book that shows the scientific process at work and how new discoveries and knowledge can completely change what we have always thought to be right. Mike Brown intersperses scientific theories and work with his own life experiences. We not only see how he discovered new objects in the Kuiper Belt, but his courtship and marriage and the birth of his daughter. He seems like a fascinating person. Here's a guy who bets someon...more
Just brilliant!!
Most of us have studied 9 planets in school and now suddenly one of them is dead, no longer considered a planet. Pluto which was a planet, is no longer a planet. Now there are only 8 planets. This book talks about how Mike Brown discovered an object (nicknamed Xena) which was larger than Pluto and how that put an end to the planet status for Pluto. Pluto is just one of the objects in Kuiper belt.

What I really loved about the book was the way he described how he actually found th...more
Mike Brown needs to explain to his daughter why he killed Pluto. But Lilah Brown does not need to worry -- her dad is not a willing planet murderer, just an astronomer who can't stand it when things are not quite right. And Pluto, Brown says, was never quite the planet we hoped it would be. Luckily, Brown was not only the right astronomer at the right time, he is a funny and accessible writer, and probably a really fun dad.

In looking for planets beyond Pluto, Brown (with the help of some very di...more
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The planet formerly known as Pluto 5 45 Feb 21, 2013 06:11PM  
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  • Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut
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  • The Theory of Almost Everything: The Standard Model, the Unsung Triumph of Modern Physics
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NOTE: There is more than one author with this name on Goodreads.

Youth and education

Brown is a Huntsville, Alabama native and graduated from Virgil I. Grissom High School in 1983. Brown earned his A.B. in physics from Princeton University in 1987, where he was a member of the Princeton Tower Club. He did his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he earned an M.Sc. in astr...more
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“Pluto is dead.” 5 likes
“Pluto was part of their mental landscape, the one they had constructed to organize their thinking about the solar system and their own place within it. Pluto seemed like the edge of existence. Ripping Pluto out of that landscape caused what felt like an inconceivably empty hole.” 2 likes
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