Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium” as Want to Read:
Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium

4.25  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,210 Ratings  ·  296 Reviews
In the final book of his astonishing career, Carl Sagan brilliantly examines the burning questions of our lives, our world, and the universe around us. These luminous, entertaining essays travel both the vastness of the cosmos and the intimacy of the human mind, posing such fascinating questions as how did the universe originate and how will it end, and how can we meld sci ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 12th 1998 by Ballantine Books (first published 1997)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Billions & Billions, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Billions & Billions

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
144th out of 992 books — 2,414 voters
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondCosmos by Carl SaganThe Systems View of Life by Fritjof Capra
Best General Science Books
35th out of 287 books — 326 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Huda Yahya
Aug 14, 2015 Huda Yahya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: carl-sagan, science

ما الذي يمكنك قوله عن كتاب تشاهد فيه ابتسامة واحد من أعز الناس على قلبك وهي تخفت

ما الذي يمكنك فعله وأنت تقرأ كلماته الأخيرة
وتشعر بأوجاعه تشتد قرب النهاية فلا تملك إلا البكاء مع ابتسامة سكينة تملأ وجهك

لا يمكنك مع كارل ساجان إلا الشعور بالسكينة والطمأنينة مهما كنت تتوجع

اختتمت آن زوجته الكتاب وهي تصف بحزن نبيل لحظات كارل الأخيرة
معاناته والجو المحيط به حينما عاد لأجداده النجوم مرة أخرى


في كتابات كارل الأخيرة تلحظ دوماً إنشغاله الشديد بقضية البشرية ومستقبلهم على هذه الأرض

كيف يمكننا إطالة
Jenny GB
Jul 01, 2012 Jenny GB rated it really liked it
Carl Sagan writes about many topics in this book, but manages to make them all readable and understandable. My favorites are his essays on exponential growth and decay, the universe, and abortion. He really clearly lays out his thoughts and makes hard to understand concepts reachable in science and mathematics. He makes what is probably the most logical argument I have ever read in the abortion debates about our need to decide what makes us human and determine at what point that happens. His sho ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Santhosh rated it really liked it
The core premise of Sagan's final book is, to paraphrase an old Native American saying, "We have not inherited the Earth from our ancestors, but have borrowed it from our children." So stop the F screwing it up.

Presented as 3 parts of 19 essays in total, some of the essays, especially in the first part, are similar to the material he covered in Cosmos: cosmology and the vastness of space, our history as a species, general physics, life outside Earth. Some of the other essays are about then emerg
Katie Cakes
May 27, 2012 Katie Cakes rated it it was amazing
I liken Carl Sagan's explanation of physics, mathematics and astronomy in Billions and Billions and all his books to what Steven Pinker did for the field of linguistics in The Language Instinct: he takes extraordinarily complex phenomena and breaks them down so the intelligent reader fascinated by such quandaries, but who just didn't have the passion to study them academically, can understand and muse upon. I used Pinker's work when teaching linguistics in graduate school, and I could see physic ...more
Paul Martin
Jun 25, 2015 Paul Martin rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Six times now have I looked Death in the face. And six times Death has averted his gaze and let me pass. Eventually, of course, Death will claim me - as he does each of us. It's only a question of when. And how.

I've learned much from our confrontations - especially about the beauty and sweet poignancy of life, about the preciousness of friends and family, and about the transforming power of love. In fact, almost dying is such a positive, character-building experience that I'd recommend it to eve
This is I think Carl Sagan's last published book, published in 1996. His chapter/essay, entitled "The Twentieth Century," is one of the most insightful summaries of what the universe is that I ever read. Well, maybe not the most insightful, but surely in the top three:

"Perhaps the most wrenching by-product of the scientific revolution has been to render untenable many of our most cherished and most comforting beliefs. The tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors has been replaced by a co
Nov 26, 2013 fatma rated it it was amazing
كتاب رائع مهما خالفت معتقداتك افكار كارل ساجان لاتستطيع الا ان تحترمه وتحب فيه انسانيته وشغفه بالعلم وبتوعية الآخرين..الكتاب رائع والمقالات جدا مؤثرة تأخذك الى مستوى مختلف تماما من الوعي والشعور بالمسؤلية حول كوكب الارض وتأثيرنا فيه كبشر ..وينبهك الى خطورة الاسلحة النووية وكيف ان وجودها يمسنا بشكل شخصي ومباشر..اما نهاية الكتاب فقد كانت شديدة التأثير وموجعة حيث تصدمك بفكرة المرض والموت والجدوى من الحياة وقيمة الحب بمواقف من حياة الكاتب نفسه الذي فارق الحياة .. كارل ساجان مازال يضيء عقول الآخرين ح ...more
Dec 26, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Sagan is eloquent as always. It helps even more to read it out loud to yourself, (muttering lest someone observe) and make up a Sagan accent as you go. He takes a gentle hand, which I think bespeaks desperation in his last years, his last chance to nudge the ball forward amidst tangible fear that forceful will be deemed strident, erudite will sound preachy, and warning the bitter rantings of an old Cassandra. Carl knows he's on the losing team, he loves humanity, and deeply fears our suicide by ...more
Saurav Sharan
Jul 25, 2014 Saurav Sharan rated it really liked it
I must say, I have never completed a book faster:just three sittings and last half in a two hour flight to Mumbai.I am inclined to be a little proud of this achievement.
My heroics were partly possible because the book is predictable in its first half, where Carl Sagan begins by enumerating the environmental problems,the world is facing,beamed especially with Ozone depletion and Global warming. The research and subsequent efforts by different companies, countries and communities have been capture
May 27, 2009 Schuyler rated it liked it
Sagan can be a little repetitive but that doesn't mean his words carry no less value. The chapter on abortion is worth your time if you've ever been even mildly divided on the issue, which you should be. Also, I teared up on the bus reading In The Valley of the Shadow, which documents Sagan's fatal battle with myelodysplastic syndrome.
Aug 31, 2015 Nathan rated it really liked it
What a great book. It was well written and really touched on a variety of different topics. Though it is dated now, I still feel that I gained a lot by reading it. And the last two chapters where he talked about his disease and views on death really struck deep with me.
I am a great fan of Carl Sagan and it is with some sadness that I can recommend this, his last book, only partially. It is a collection of nineteen essays, organized into three mostly unrelated parts. Some items are well worth reading—particularly the last—but some not at all.

Part 1, "The Power and Beauty of Quantification," is merely a simple echo of his famous book Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980). The first chapter on large numbers, from which the "Billions and Billions" of this book's title
Jul 13, 2009 Kyle rated it it was amazing
Written at the end of his life and published with an post script illuminating his unsuccessful battle with myelodysplasia, as well as a touching epilogue by his widow Ann Druyan. The book starts out with a kind of fleshing-out of humanity by its numbers, things like human population and resource usage and the age of the species are all implicitly synthesized into a description of people by very large numbers. It then touches on social and environmental issues, how people react to them, and what ...more
Nawar Youssef
May 22, 2014 Nawar Youssef rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, science

بلايين و بلايين كتاب غير عادي، ربما لان كاتبه غير عادي. يأخذك الكتاب في البداية برحلة خفيفة يطلعك خلالها على بعض العلوم و النظريات التي توصل إليها الذكاء البشري عبر الزمن و أيضاً يمر مرور سريع على
التقنيات و التطبيقات لهذه العلوم و النظريات. و بما أن الكاتب هو "كارل سيغان" فمن الطبيعي أن تجد كثير من المعلومات عن الفضاء و الفيزياء و عن جمال الكون و عظمته لكن كل هذا موجود في القسم الأول فقط.

و لان "كارل سيغان" يمثل العالم (بكسر اللام) المثالي لكثير من العلماء و الهواة الذين يؤمنون بالعلم، فهو لا ب

Miguel Á.
Dec 22, 2015 Miguel Á. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, ensayo
Un alegato a la vida repleto de esperanza, un recorrido crítico a la historia de la Humanidad y los descubrimientos científicos, y una reflexión sobre cómo podríamos hacer de este un lugar mejor para vivir.
Dec 26, 2013 Eva rated it liked it
A collection of essays written by Sagan just before he (spoiler alert) died. Some quotes:

On the shrimp in a little glass ecosphere:
"All I have to do is make sure that they're not in too much light or too long in the dark and that they're always at temperatures between 40 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. (Above that, I guess, they make a bisque and not an ecosystem.)"

On the need for abortion to spare amother's life:
"Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, opposed even this exception: 'If t
სეიგანის უკანასკნელი წიგნი რომელშიც ის ტრადიციას არ ღალატობს და მკითხველს აფრთხილებს იმ საფრთხეებზე რაც ჩვენ დაუდევარ ქმედებებს შეიძლება მოყვეს. ეს არის გამაფრთხილებელი წერილი. რომელიც გვიყვება ოზონის ხვრელზე, გლობალურ დათბობაზე, ბირთვული იარაღის და პოლიტიკის პრობლემებზე, კოლაბორაციის, გამჭრიახობის და პასუხისმგებლობის მნიშვნელობაზე.
ჩვენი ბომბების გამანადგურებელი ძალა საუკუნეზე ნაკლებ დროში მილიარდჯერ გაიზარდა, გავხდით კი მილიარდჯერ უფრო ჭკვიანები? საინტერესოა კარლის მიერ 1988 წელს დაწერილი სტატ
Nov 24, 2012 Jake rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
“The hard-liners on each side encourage one another. They owe their credibility and their power to one another. They need one another. They are locked in a deadly embrace.”

Dr. Carl Sagan wrote this in a piece dual-published by prominent magazines in the United States and the then Soviet Union. But it could just as easily describe the current toxicity of American politics, any given regional feud, or even big-box stores competing for sales on a day purportedly dedicated to thanksgiving. The abo
Jan 06, 2009 Melissa rated it really liked it
One of Sagan's best nonfiction works (and his last before his death.) The title of the book does not do justice to the topics he explores, but his main theme centers around global synergy and cooperation to solve the ills of modern society: ozone depletion, global warming, population control, economic parity, etc. The two chapters on the ozone and global warming are the BEST scientific yet approachable renditions on the topics and can be read out of context of the rest of the book for great educ ...more
Sep 03, 2012 J.P. rated it it was amazing
I bought this book on a whim because I found a cheap, decent & used copy for a price I couldn't pass up. I've gotten more than my money's worth for this one. It's a great book & demonstrates how thoughtful Sagan was. I remember Bill Nye growing up but definitely wished I had been exposed to Carl Sagan as well. It's his memoirs written a little before his death. His thoughts on important issues such as Global Warming (Climate Change), our history as a species, our growth as a species & ...more
Jun 28, 2015 Rose rated it it was amazing
The Cold War is over, though its lessons are strong. The MS Turanor cuts through a nearby harbor and harvests a nearby star. Sagan is long dead and while bits of his last collection of essays are dated, most are as relevant as ever. The facts, hopes and cautions are relayed simply and applicably. Billions and Billions is still handy for extrapolation, still important, still interesting as hell.

On second thought, I take back its datedness as a con. It's all the more fascinating to juxtapose the
Carl Sagan's last book, finished shortly before his death, is an interesting and, at times, curious work. Dr. Sagan starts out a bit off form: the first third or so of the book is rather lacking in his signature eloquence, and he makes a couple of uncharacteristic errors. In the chapter "Monday-night Hunters," for example, he overextends our knowledge of the evolution of behavior in making sweeping, unsupported conclusions about our (and here, by "our", I mean "society's", and not my own) love o ...more
Benjamin Atkinson
After completing "In a Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark", I did not think that I would find anything better. I was wrong. Billions and Billions, although a softer edged, more humanistic book was still a life-changing read. Loaded with wisdom, wonder, and more critique on critical thinking, I found this last effort by Sagan, to be his most heart-warming. The death of Carl Sagan is a huge loss to the human race. His rare combination of scientific rigor, atheism, and spiritual e ...more
Apr 21, 2009 Justin rated it it was ok
I didn't enjoy this as much as Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, mostly because I read Demon much closer to its 1996 publication date. I would have enjoyed Billions much more had I read it closer to when it was released (1997), as opposed to 12 years after Sagan's death. Many of the chapters comprising Billions were written in the 80s and are dated now. There were still some good parts, and obviously the more cosmic "big picture" stuff isn't much effected by 10-20 years. In fact, some of Sagan's ...more
Derek Valles
Jul 21, 2014 Derek Valles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I pick this book up for inspiration and eloquence, and it never lets me down. The last section, an epilogue by Sagan's wife written after his death, is incredibly touching. The book is highly suggested.
Jun 26, 2012 Vinicius rated it it was amazing
This was my first Carl Sagan book and I'm very happy I read it - and would totally recommend it.

The "story" itself is just a list of some of the author's thoughts and opinions (just like the title says). Some of which I couldn't completely understand as they refer exclusively to USA and some of which I can completely relate to/agree with. In general, they are not only thoughts, but information - I can honestly say I'd never really understood the ozone and global warming issues til now, for insta
Jun 09, 2009 Tim rated it it was amazing
Okay, there are definitely chapters here that should be required reading for honors science and/or math students here. There are definitely chapters that I think any science-minded adult or even those that are at least fascinated by science should be reading. For myself, it was the book that opened up my first thoughts that perhaps religion as an institution could be detrimental, and that there was a beginning of a dividing line between the institution and the spirituality that the institution t ...more
Isaac Carpenter
Jan 30, 2016 Isaac Carpenter rated it it was ok
Let me say up front that this is only the second book I've read of Sagan, so I am definitely not an expert on his writings, but from what I've read, I get the jist. I must say that a simple comparison of B&B with the only other Sagan/Druyan work I've read (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) that this work pales in comparison. SFA was very interesting and intriguing, and although I found it to be lacking in explanatory scope, it is definitely worth having. B&B, on the other hand, is just fla ...more
Michael Zucco
Apr 08, 2015 Michael Zucco rated it it was amazing
I will admit to being a bit biased, as Carl is one of my heroes, but this book is fantastic. I'm what you'd call a 'casual' space/astronomy follower, more recently so, and he does a very good job introducing topics that need a bit of explanation to a reader such as me.

He delves into human evolution, the EM spectrum, and the awesome nature of the cosmos in the first part, then firmly plants himself as an environmentalist and goes on to plead that we do our part to stop poverty, care for the earth
Janet Mainville
Nov 20, 2014 Janet Mainville rated it it was amazing
Unquestionably one of the best books that I have ever read. Before I read the book, I didn't have much confidence in my ability to grasp scientific concepts that were foreign to me. I can't remember what it was that peaked my interest in reading this book but I am so glad that I did! Carl Sagan's writing is beautiful, eloquent and educational as well as heartbreaking at times. His writing style put me at ease and really drew me in and before I knew it, I wasn't even thinking about how I would n ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
  • The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist
  • Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax"
  • Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century
  • Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos
  • The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet
  • Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe
  • Carl Sagan: A Life
  • The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report
  • The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
  • Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature
  • Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
  • Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe
  • Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy
  • Black Holes and Baby Universes
in 1934, scientist Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After earning bachelor and master's degrees at Cornell, Sagan earned a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, and co-founder of the Planetary Society. A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced th ...more
More about Carl Sagan...

Share This Book

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” 549 likes
“Coal, oil and gas are called fossil fuels, because they are mostly made of the fossil remains of beings from long ago. The chemical energy within them is a kind of stored sunlight originally accumulated by ancient plants. Our civilization runs by burning the remains of humble creatures who inhabited the Earth hundreds of millions of years before the first humans came on the scene. Like some ghastly cannibal cult, we subsist on the dead bodies of our ancestors and distant relatives.” 30 likes
More quotes…