In my view, this book and the accompanying PBS series combined into one entity is Carl Sagan’s masterpiece. He fuses astronomy, history, philosophy, r...moreIn my view, this book and the accompanying PBS series combined into one entity is Carl Sagan’s masterpiece. He fuses astronomy, history, philosophy, religion, biography, speculation, and art into this project in such an unique and astonishing way that one can’t help but be completely enthralled with the information given. We start off as a passenger on a ‘spaceship of the imagination’ that takes us back and forth through time from the moment of the Big Bang to the end of the Earth – either by the Sun’s expansion into a red giant star about 6 billion years from now, or the end of humanity through self-destruction. In between and along the way we see the evolution of life with the progression of natural and artificial selection, to the rise and fall of the Ionians in Greece, we hear the questions posed about alien life and what it would mean to humanity, we find explorers of the future in their nuclear powered spaceships, and to the present where Sagan gives a moving plea in the final chapter, ‘Who Speaks for Earth?’ as he asks the people of the Earth to cooperate and help each other in ways that promote a global community that appreciates cultural diversity, as well as a common stewardship of the planet that we all share. Being that this is one of the best selling science books of all time and the most watched PBS series ever; Sagan’s message of education and wonder made it out to a lot of people – including a 4 year-old and a 31 year-old version of me! As a professional astronomer and science populizer, he understood the importance of communicating to the public the contemporary discoveries of science and the lessons of history.
On exploration then and now: These voyages of exploration and discovery are the latest in a long series that have characterized and distinguished human history. In the 15th and 16th centuries you could travel from Spain to the Azores in a few days, the same time it takes us now to cross the channel from Earth to the Moon. It took then a few months to traverse the Atlantic Ocean and reach what was called the New World, the Americas. Today it takes a few months to cross the ocean of the inner solar system and make planet-fall on Mars or Venus, which are truly and literally new worlds awaiting us. In the 17th and 18th centuries you could travel from Holland to China in a year or two, the time it has taken Voyager to travel from Earth to Jupiter. On theology: Every human culture rejoices in the fact that there are cycles in nature. But how, it was thought, could such cycles come about unless the gods willed them? And if there are cycles in the years of humans, might there not be cycles in the aeons of the gods?... It is said that men may not be the dreams of the gods, but rather that the gods are the dreams of men. On humanity and stewardship: There are not yet any obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours always rush implacably, headlong, toward self-destruction. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of stars… What account would we give of our stewardship of the planet Earth? We have heard the rationales offered by the nuclear superpowers. We know who speaks for the nations. But who speaks for the human species? Who speaks for Earth?(less)