The business and science publisher John Wiley isn't famous for its biographies, but they've landed a corker with Keay Davidson's life of Carl Sagan, science's greatest showman of recent years, the man who first concieved of "nuclear winter" and who shaped the attitudes of a generation with his groundbreaking TV science series Cosmos
Sagan stands at the cusp where the technocratic and militaristic ambitions of the 50s meet the ecology movement. Keay Davidson treads a difficult middle course with gusto: Sagan wanted nothing less than to refashion astronomy and the life sciences in the image of his own imagination. Sagan believed that where life can in principle arise it always will, that many more worlds are habitable by some form of life than we imagine, and that evolution favours wild diversity. Not surprisingly it was Sagan's taste for science fiction that shaped his philosophy--a literature that accords with Sagan's own liberal education by building a speculative bridge between CP Snow's "two cultures": the sciences and the humanities.
Sagan was in many ways not a nice man. Nor was he by any means the best scientist. Davidson pulls no punches but this remains a generous and humane portrait. Davidson's journalist style is not top-flight, but he handles a vast amount of often first-hand research with skill and economy. In a market flooded with wordy and massive "first volumes" of never-to-be-finished lives Carl Sagan is a breath of fresh air from an unlikely source. --Simon Ings
"Davidson writes superbly, and this biography is extremely hard to put down. Seventy pages of notes, a detailed biography, and a thorough index also makes this book an extremely useful guide to the history of space science." (The Observatory, August 2000)
"...an extremely useful guide to the history of space science." (The Observatory, August 2000)