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

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,624 Ratings  ·  517 Reviews
In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of planethood. Far from the sun, wonder Pluto has any fans. Yet during the mounting debate over rallied behind the extraterrestrial underdog. Disney created an irresistible pup by the same name, and, as one NASA scientist put it, Pluto was "discovered by an American for America." Pluto is entrenched in ou ...more
Hardcover, 194 pages
Published January 26th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 19th 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Feb 13, 2009 Ken rated it did not like it
ugh... awfully light book on what really be a weighty tome. felt like a long article in time magazine or something, where it might scratch the surface of a subject, but you don't really get a whole understanding of the topic. filled with way too many 'extras': political cartoons, appendixes of song lyrics, full page portraits of the little girl who suggested the name, etc... i mean seriously, just get on with it. when you remove the quotes and pictures and figures, it's what, maybe like 50 pages ...more
Here's a topic that isn't often covered: how museums design their exhibits. You know what else isn't often covered: how science happens. There are myriad books about discoverers and discoveries, and many about new fields as they develop. But this is the only time I can recall reading a book on the evolving science behind an issue like Is Pluto a planet? And although the book isn't specifically targeting a young readership, I think it could be wonderfully popular with middle school readers, becau ...more
May 31, 2014 Dj rated it really liked it
deGrasse Tyson proves that while he might not be the smartest man in the United States, he is one of the best scientist at making what at first glance could be a daunting project for the uninitiated to read both understandable and enjoyable. With this the second of this Astrophysicists books and it has determined me to read anything that I can find under his pen. His delivery makes it easy to read some of the most complex subjects in a clear and easy to read manner.

While this book is about the
May 04, 2015 NancyHelen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a very entertaining science communicator and astrophysicist. This little book outlines the whole Pluto debate as it unfolded in the US (I don't think most people in other countries cared quite so much). It makes for entertaining reading, but I can't help but think 'seriously? It's science. Science changes constantly. And frankly, all the debate concerns is a linguistically constructed classification system. The universe doesn't really care.' Still, it is a fun and very acc ...more
Feb 21, 2009 Amanda rated it it was amazing
Tyson is always a favorite guest on The Daily Show and this book was discussed on his last interview with Jon Stewart. Library to the rescue!

There are 9 chapters to this fairly short book, all done with wit and an obvious love of science. Tyson goes over Pluto's history, how Pluto was received in our culture, and the descent of how Pluto lost his status as our 9th planet.

Apparently Americans really love Pluto, not only because of it's association with Disney's dog, but because an American discov
Jun 25, 2011 Bry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was voted Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by people magazine - who would have known such a stud muffin was also an crazy intelligent, funny, and witty writer?!

This book details the history of Pluto's place in both science and people's hearts from the time of it's discovery and naming as a planet all the way to its demotion to a dwarf planet within the Kuiper Belt. Plus it is full of satirical comics and extremely angry and often misspelled letters from damn near homicidal t
Nov 20, 2014 AndrewP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before reading this book I had no idea that the author was a major player/instigator in the whole 'Is Pluto a Planet?' situation from the first half of the 2000's. It's pretty amazing how this whole situation and debate blew up over how the Rose Center for Earth and Space decided to depict the planets in their exhibition. Rather than the traditional display of planets listed out from the sun, they categorized them by dividing the solar system up into zones of like objects. Going out from the su ...more
Jul 31, 2014 jeremy rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
a stimulating, witty, and educational look at the kuiper belt object formerly known as a planet, neil degrasse tyson's the pluto files tracks the historical, scientific, and cultural ascendancy of our solar system's one-time ninth planet. tyson recounts the commotion that ensued following the hayden planetarium's omission of pluto in one of their displays in 2000 - which perhaps paled in comparison to the controversy subsequent to the iau's reclassification of pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006.

Feb 27, 2009 Carolyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Another guilty pleasure. Neil deGrasse Tyson always writes well. This time he is less concerned with science education than he is with describing the shared cultural mania that resulted from rebranding Pluto a plutoid.

The story begins with the fallout of the exhibit he put together at the Hayden Planetarium in the new Rose Center for Earth and Space. His team presented the planets as members of families of object with similar properties rather than as orbs to be memorized. Pluto was firmly plac
Apr 05, 2012 Christina rated it liked it
I'm reminded of that quote from a child's review of a book that said: "This book told me more about penguins than I cared to know." Only substitute penguins for Pluto. I KID, I KID.

No, I feel very informed about Pluto as a planetary object, and this was really a fascinating read, but I have to say, I came out of this book with Dr. Tyson's same conclusion: WHY DID THIS CAUSE SO MUCH CONTROVERSY? The book ends with a cartoon of a news bulletin proclaiming Pluto was no longer a planet, with a pict
Aug 22, 2009 Meredith rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio
Audio. This book came on 4 cds, but I think it could have been 2, comfortably. There was a lot of repetition - of content that was phrased identically more than once - so much so that I kept checking that I hadn't repeated a track/disc. Perhaps that doesn't comes across as strongly in print? Anyway, it was a fun little read, very much popular science. I liked the overarching theme of the difference between science (as in scientific thought and logical rigor) and popular science (culturally-led, ...more
Apr 22, 2009 Kristen rated it it was ok
I picked up this short, beautifully designed book after following all the public brouhaha over Pluto's downgrading to a "dwarf planet" expecting mostly an overview of that scene. The second half of the book does provide this, but the first half is basically a history of Pluto's discovery, and frankly, I found this part rather boring. But that's mostly because I have a pea brain that can't follow science very well. For me, the hands-down highlight of the book are the letters from children--printe ...more
Jul 11, 2015 Geraldine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though I really enjoyed this book, I am still mad at Tyson for "demoting" Pluto.
Jun 08, 2015 Enzo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As a Pluto fan, yes, the planet. I have always wanted to read this book. Neil deGrasse Tyson was the man seen in the front of the controversial reclassification of Pluto. I still remember seeing websites with kids letters and politicians trying to get their 5 cents in on the topic. Pluto as it turns out is the most popular planet. Here is a history of its discovery, its growth in the consciousness of America and the World. The beginning of the cracks, and the fall from planetary grace.
As a laym
Jan 22, 2015 Darren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Neil DeGrasse Tyson is becoming one of my favorite popular science authors - I enjoy his Teaching Company courses, and he was perfect in the COSMOS reboot. His delivery of intriguing topics blends interesting facts with passionate excitement and fervor that is contagious, and all too rare in the scientific education community.

I found this book to be an interesting recount of the historical rise and fall of our ninth "planet" (it's size is actually less than 0.24 percent that of Earth!), from it
Jul 06, 2015 Mattr76 rated it really liked it
I received this book as a gift when it was released, and the "demotion" of Pluto was still a fairly hot topic. I wasn't terribly interested as I considered the whole thing pretty silly. My reaction was, "Pluto doesn't care what we call it" and "planet is a term humans invented, so there's no real scientific value." In fact, my opinion was that the term planet should only apply to the classical wanderers of the sky, and thus exclude Uranus and Neptune as well. Anyway, with the impending fly-by of ...more
Dec 06, 2014 Joan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teachers of science and high school students
This book was not quite what I had expected, but that is more my fault since I was expecting more science than I got in this book. This is a mostly quite personal description from Tyson's point of view of the fuss made by American's over the change in status of Pluto. As Tyson pointed out, ultimately it really wasn't all that important in that it didn't change any of the realities of the world....Pluto is still the same physical spacial body it was before the change in status...but acknowledges ...more
Megan Ammer
Mar 18, 2016 Megan Ammer rated it it was amazing
I was already bound to like this book due to the subject matter which I can confidently say most Americans I know care about on some level. You can tell through the writing that Neil deGrasse Tyson is not necessarily against Pluto, but that science should prevail, and as a forerunner in the decision to demote Pluto, used that basic belief as a key motivator. The book is a great example of that concept in action. The Pluto Files goes into the historical, pop cultural, and scientific aspects of Pl ...more
A readable, if slight and somewhat repetitive, look at the popular controversy about whether or not Pluto should be designated a planet. Neil deGrasse Tyson was one of the designers behind the Hayden Planetarium display which kicked off the argument in the media back in 2001, and the book is liberally sprinkled with excerpts from the emails and letters which he received from the public about it. Tyson's narrative reveals all the difficulties of trying to untangle "pure" science from emotion, nos ...more
Jimmie Eichman
This is the first Neil deGrasse Tyson book but the second book about Pluto being demoted as a planet I have read. I can see my Dr. Tyson is such a popular advocate for all things space related. He provided a great overview of why Pluto is no longer a plant. I was impressed by the conversational overtone of the book. Although the terminology in this book was mostly unknown to me, I felt the way the material was present, I was not left to drift in space. I enjoyed learning about the Greek mytholog ...more
Jan 21, 2010 Chris rated it liked it
What was the biggest story of 2006? The arrest of the shampoo bombers in England? Small fries. The first World Baseball Classic? YAWN! The death of Don Knotts? Nothin'.

No, as interesting as they were, none of these generated nearly as much public interest and argument as the much ballyhooed "demotion" of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union in August of 2006. Poor little Pluto, hanging out there on the edge of the solar system, got bumped down to "Dwarf Planet," rousing much ire from pe
Oct 15, 2012 Greg rated it liked it
I read The Pluto Files because I am interested in space science and I am a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and while it is a nice little book, it does not have too much to offer.

As a chronicle of the public outcry over the American Museum of Natural History's decision to not include Pluto among the planets exhibited at the Hayden Planetarium, it's interesting. As a discussion of the curious obsession among some people of Pluto, it is also interesting. And as a way to get the reader thinking about wh
Sep 03, 2014 Greg rated it liked it
The first half of the book functions rather well, as an examination of Pluto, its discovery, origins of the name and its cultural impact on America, and inevitably Neil deGrasse Tyson's role in Pluto's demotion in our categorization of the universe. As the second half loses steam as the book begins pulling more headlines, quotes, letter's from students and song lyrics that reference Pluto my interest started to wane. While the later certainly illustrates the extent of the sentimental value that ...more
Feb 13, 2009 Caitie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who watch too much Discovery Channel
Recommended to Caitie by: Jon Stewart
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this expecting to be convinced that Pluto was not a planet, and I totally was. But by the end of the book Dr. Tyson also managed to convince me that it doesn't matter either way. I enjoyed this very much, and the account of the scientific community's back-and-forth on Pluto was fun and rather a lot more human a depiction of scientists and scientific deliberations than I'm used to reading. I tend to idolize scientists as these strange, dispassionate, inherently rational creatures who live ...more
Jan 12, 2010 Thomas rated it liked it
I waffled on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars (and I keep waffling as I write this). Honestly, the book is very entertaining and full of interesting info, yet the majority of it seems to be about the near soap opera like debate about Pluto's standing as planet and the furor that erupted based on a simple action (or lack of action, in some sense) by the designers/planners of the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan. Tyson was a central figure in this with his role as director of the planetarium. ...more
Nov 03, 2015 Daphne rated it really liked it
Shelves: quest
What a fun astronomy book. I read a lot of dry ones, so it was a nice break from that while still giving lots of information. I admit to being one of the people had had initially had a visceral reaction to changing the status of Pluto, but I was also ready to give the actual specialists a chance to figure it out and then explain why they came to the conclusions. It makes such obvious sense now, but I can see that the struggle is real to explain to the average person that science names things to ...more
Ashley Fournier
Jun 02, 2015 Ashley Fournier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. I listed to the audiobook, and it was well-narrated, informative, humorous, and enjoyable. I would recommend this for anyone interested in cosmology, space, planets, or simply learning new things.
Sep 24, 2014 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is interesting, not so much for the science but for the anecdotes of how the public reacts. I thought the book could have been structured more strongly -- even though it is non-fiction, you can still tell it with a story arc and a resolution.
Jul 04, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just a fun book. It has some good background on the history of Pluto and the struggling between calling it a planet and calling it something else.
Devone Jackson
The Pluto Files is book about Scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and his struggle against society to protect his right to speak on what he feels about the Planet Pluto. Mr. Tyson personally feels that Pluto is not a planet and world goes crazy at this idea. People constantly harassing him through phone calls, emails, and letters. New York Times had their fair amount of talk about Mr. Tyson. It got so bad to the fact that there was meeting that together a group of important scientist to come up with ...more
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That's no exuse: errors by NDT? 1 1 Jun 26, 2014 04:51AM  
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Neil deGrasse Tyson was born and raised in New York City where he was educated in the public schools clear through his graduation from the Bronx High School of Science. Tyson went on to earn his BA in Physics from Harvard and his PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia.

Tyson's professional research interests are broad, but include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our
More about Neil deGrasse Tyson...

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“When your reasons for believing something are justified ad hoc, you are left susceptible to further discoveries undermining the rationale for that belief.” 17 likes
“the stated authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” 2 likes
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