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The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  733 ratings  ·  155 reviews
A young planetary scientist intimately details the search for life on Mars, tracing our centuries-old obsession with this seemingly desolate planet.

Mars was once similar to Earth, but today there are no rivers, no lakes, no oceans. Coated in red dust, the terrain is bewilderingly empty. And yet multiple spacecraft are circling Mars, sweeping over Terra Sabaea, Syrtis Major
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published July 2nd 2020 by Allen Lane
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Mar 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The idea of looking for life in the universe began to make sense to me... a chance to discover the smallest breath in the deepest night and, in doing so, vanquish the void that lurked between human existence and all else in the cosmos.
In honor of Perseverance landing on Mars, of course I had to pick up a book about the red planet. And I'm so glad I chose The Sirens of Mars. In haunting and lyrical prose, Johnson provides both a straightforward account of the history of Mars space exploration
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lori by: Numidica's review
Shelves: reviewed, kindle
I read a GR friend's review of this and got it at once. Sarah Stewart Johnson has written a combination autobiography with a focus on her career as a planetary scientist, a history of Mars exploration starting from early astronomers looking up at the sky and taking us through successive inventions and developments in planetary science and weaves in her personal life and career trajectory.

She writes about many different people that advanced the science, including Giovanni Schiaparelli, who in ad
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book about the beauty of science, and in particular about the search for life beyond Earth. Sarah Johnson's account of the search for life on Mars is a comprehensive description of mankind's interest in, and theories about Mars since ancient times, but it focuses on the last 150 years or so. It is interesting to remember how little we knew about the red planet until the first fly-by of Mars in 1965; it was not even known before then that Mars had craters on its surface. The gene ...more
Jul 10, 2020 rated it liked it
When one thinks of life on Mars, those little green aliens tend to come up in the imagination. Loads of Science Fiction authors have written about it, be it Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles or Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy . More recently, movies have touched the Red Planet - many laughed with the puns in The Martia n and wondered about its science, others loved the Old Mars touch of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Princess of Mars even better.

With the upcoming NA
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I won this book from Goodreads Giveaway program. Thank you soooo much!

A wonderful, not-too-long book about Mars! And life on other planets! And life on Earth! And where it all comes from/came from, plus lots of ruminations on science, space exploration and life itself. Fascinating, one of those wish-it-were-longer books.

Ms. Johnson talks about her own life only sparingly - the subject here is Mars - but when she does, it fits seamlessly into her career, still young, and the science, history and
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: space-nonfiction
The most frequently-used word on the dust jacket describing this book is "poetic". This is accurate.

Johnson has put together an incredible book that's totally unlike most of what I've read in space non-fiction to date. Judging a book by the cover, I was expecting something like a by-engineers, for-engineers autobiography, or perhaps a listicle-cum-book delving into the current state of Mars science.

What I got was something closer to Carl Sagan's iconic Cosmos: contemplative, exploring, curious
Rachel (Kalanadi)
3.5 stars
The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World, by Sarah Stewart Johnson, is an interesting book by a key NASA scientist in the quest to find life on Mars. This book is a journey through the speculative analysis of Martian life, still not a proven thing, and one that looks like it may be increasingly difficult to pertain. Do not be fooled though; this book is not a look at the hopeless, but instead a light and poetic analysis of life and how humans seek it on another world. Johnson look ...more
he book explores the history of science as it relates to our understanding of our closest planetary neighbor, Mars. It’s chronological, from about the 1950s until now, but it goes much further back than that, digging into what made seeking out life in worlds outside of our own so captivating and the wheres, whys, and hows of the beliefs people had through time about space.

Woven into the history and major players in Mars exploration is Johnson’s own memoir of growing fond of this research. And i
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
I should start by saying there should be many more books like this--books by actual scientists recounting how especially complex collaborations, like spacecraft missions, work, written in their own words, and from a broader range of scientists who do not all come from the same background/life experiences (instead of your Carl Sagans dominating the publishing of popular science works).

However, this book did not really meet that. It might very well have been because I listened to the audiobook, b
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book provides an excellent survey of the scientific exploration of Mars, set against the author's engaging personal story of interest and professional work in that exploration. What I found particularly effective was the way that the scientists are each situated in their own historical periods. This makes the limitations and mistakes of earlier eras more understandable, and it gives the discoveries we take for granted today more weight. ...more
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb. There are books that indulge fully in the epic grandeur of exploration and this is one. Anyone immune to the wonder and dynamism and allure of science after reading this, frankly has no imagination.
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Sirens of Mars is heavily scientific but author, Sarah Stewart Johnson, writes for the average reader and explains all the technical jargon at first use so the book is easy to read regardless of your experience with the topic. The tidbits of life beyond the telescope moor the narrative to an easily relatable space even as the book describes otherworldly adventure that is perhaps out of the scope of personal experience for most potential readers, but definitely enjoyable to experience vicario ...more
Jake Arluck
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
A wonderfully written and ambitious book, combining a historical account of the search for life on Mars with the author's memoirs of the path that led her to her becoming a prominent scientist. Johnson has serious literary chops, and her style is far more appealing than the faintly condescending TED-talk-meets-elementary-school-lesson tone found in all too many pop-sci books.

My main quibble with this book is less about anything Johnson did and more with the unsatisfactory state of reality. To t
William Schlickenmaier
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Might be the best book I’ve read this year. Sarah Stewart Johnson tells a story that is timeless yet completely human, building her own experience into it. A must read.
Sue Chant
A stroll round the investigation of the planet Mars from the early years of optics to the latest Mars rovers, interspersed with sections on the author's life and work. I found it a bit scattergun but quite interesting. ...more
Sophie Brown
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Throughout July, GeekMom is preparing for the planned launch of the Perseverance rover on July 20th with Mars Month, a month filled with Mars-themed content. Be sure to follow the Mars Month tag to find all of this month’s content so far in one place. Today I am reviewing The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewart Johnson.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

The Sirens of Mars is a part memoir, part historical narrative of the exploration of one of our nearest planetary neighbors. Written by
J.C. Ahmed
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
A personal, scientific and historical account of the search for life on Mars, written by a female planetary scientist.
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, arc
In honor of today’s launch of the Perseverance Mars rover, I bring you “The Sirens of Mars: Searching For Life on Another World” by Sarah Stewart Johnson (thanks to Crown Publishing for the #gifted #netgalley eARC)

This book is the exact kind of nonfiction I like: a deep dive into a science-y topic with some memoir bits thrown in, to add the human element. Not since Lab Girl by Hope Jahren has a book struck just the right balance for me, not until The Sirens of Mars.

Despite my love for all thin
Bruce Katz
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it
A very pleasant book. I'm sure that a great deal went over my head (which is, I suppose, to be expected, this being a book about Mars and space), but I learned a great deal. The author is an ethusiastic guide, taking us from early speculation about life on Mars, stories about the scientists -- famous and otherwise -- who were drawn to the question, questions about how life begins and what processes sustain it, through the various landers sent to photograph the planet's surface, up to the present ...more
Charles Sheard
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed, sciences
I find Johnson's writing to be the most compelling when telling the stories of the various Mars missions, both their successes and failures, and describing much of the early pre-space-age scientific examination of the planet. She also manages to humanize the research with notes about the researchers themselves, which is absolutely a compelling connection to make between the reader and the science, including those experiences of Johnson's own life relating to her scientific advancement and resear ...more
Oct 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the most powerful devices used in non-fiction involves the author drawing parallels between historic events and her life. This in turn encourages readers to draw meaningful parallels with their lives. I thoroughly enjoyed how Dr. Sarah Stewart Johnson does this in The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World.

Dr. Johnson, who has worked directly on multiple robotic missions to the red planet, takes readers on a journey through the highlights of efforts to explore Mars and determ
Mar 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
With Mars regaining a prime position in the news, I read this book at a very appropriate time. The author has written about human’s obsession with the planet as far back as the western world has tried to map and study it. Parallelly we are also given an insight into what her life was like with a father who was also equally interested in the topic and her forays into the field.

The tale twists and turns between the two main topics but continues to hold Mars as the central focus. On reading the aft
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is incredible.

I've read quite a few space books, but this one is definitely up there with my favourites. It focuses on one plant - Mars, and our history with it and how the narrative changes as the science develops and as we have learnt more about it. Because of this it is more focused on the last 150 years of history as that is when we see the most scientific developments and as such learn the most about this planet.

Its not physics based in any way, which a lot of the space books are,
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reads-21
This makes me hopeful that our metaphors for space exploration are shifting away from dominance and frontiers and conquest. So many lovely moments of connection in this book—a flight attendant giving a consolatory bottle of wine to a scientist who’s just lost a space craft, explorers in the Arctic Circle bumping into each other in the vastness because they’re drawn to the same cliffs and landmarks.
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Nicely flowing history of the development of ideas about Mars. I was most interested about the recent advances but the approach using the observations and discoveries of people like Schiaparelli provided an excellent background.
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
i liked it! it was also wild to read about the recent nasa perseverance landing from a time where it hadnt set off yet !! i liked the mixture of ScienceTM to personal anecdotes to science history :) it all flowed nicely i had a good time!

mars is cool :)
Evelyn Petschek
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous! Timely and fascinating. Part memoir, part history. The author chronicles the evolution of our understanding and knowledge of Mars, as well as how she was drawn into the field of Mars exploration. Audio narrator was okay, but not great.
Cheemo Hoiips
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
An excellent crash course in the human search for life on Mars. Fascinating and full of fun facts. I learned a lot will likely reference this book in the future.

Only part that wasn’t my vibe were the tangents into the author’s life. Didn’t seem to gel with the rest of the text.
Ted Haussman
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well written, a lyrical account and part memoir of a scientist in search of proof of life on Mars. The drama of failures and successes shine through and I learned more about what we have discovered than I previously knew.

Enjoyable book that I devoured in 24 hours.
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Sarah Stewart Johnson is an assistant professor of planetary science at Georgetown University. A former Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow, she received her PhD from MIT and has worked on NASA’s Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers. She is also a visiting scientist with the Planetary Environments Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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