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The Planets [Hardcover]

Dava Sobel
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
RRP: £15.00
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The Planets The Planets 3.3 out of 5 stars (24)
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Book Description

5 Sep 2005

After the huge national and international success of LONGITUDE and GALILEO’S DAUGHTER, Dava Sobel tells the human story of the nine planets of our solar system.

This groundbreaking new work traces the lives of each member of our solar family, from myth and history, astrology and science fiction, to the latest data from the modern era's robotic space probes.

Whether revealing what hides behind Venus's cocoon of acid clouds, describing Neptune's 'complex beauty in subtle stripes and spots of royal to navy blue, azure, turquoise, and aquamarine', or capturing first-hand the excitement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when the first pictures from Cassini at Saturn were recently beamed to earth, Dava Sobel's unique tour of the solar system is filled with fascination and beauty. In lyrical prose interspersed with poems by Tennyson, Blake and others, The Planets gives a breathtaking, intimate view of those heavenly bodies that have captured the imagination since humanity's first glimpse of the glittering night skies.

This extraordinary book of science, history, biography and storytelling will engage and delight. It is at once timely and timeless, and of infinite relevance to this age in which new planets are being discovered elsewhere in our galaxy, around stars other than the Sun.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; 1st edition (5 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857028503
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857028508
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 897,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'An enchanting book. In prose that is by turns lyrical and wry, and always filled with an infectious sense of wonder, she moves engagingly through our solar system … Sobel's enthusiasm for her subject is absolute and she succeeds in transmitting it to the reader, quite a feat when the subject matter can be so tricky to grasp. Much of the passion feeds directly from the astronomers themselves, their great discoveries and their endless yearning for understanding.' Sunday Telegraph

‘In this enthralling, accessible book, bestselling author Dava Sobel provides a detailed portrait of each heavenly body. Drawing on myth and history, astrology and science fact as well as science fiction, she tells a story that will have you gazing up at the night skies with renewed fascination.’ Daily Mail

'If you like your science lyrical Dava Sobel is the author for you.’ Independent

'It is science that excites Sobel. There's a real gee-whizzery about her treatment of telescopes and space probes and their many astonishing discoveries in recent years. It is hard to imagine a better picture of the dangerous and inhospitable nature of our solar system, where the existence of any form of life, let alone one capable of travelling to other worlds, is nothing less than a miracle. The book is also a timely reminder of the fragility of the little green spacecraft on which we are all passengers.’ John Moorish, Independent on Sunday

About the Author

Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, is the author of Longitude, a prize-winning international bestseller, and Galileo's Daughter, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. She has co-authored six books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake, and The Illustrated Longitude with William J. H. Andrewes. Dava Sobel has won a number of awards for her outstanding contribution towards public understanding of science. She lives in East Hampton, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Journey through the solar system 20 Feb 2007
This charming guide to the solar system explains the planets in everyday language while drawing on history, myth, science fiction, art, literature and the latest scientific advances. It discusses the ongoing discoveries in our planetary system, dealing with every body from the sun to Pluto. The writing style is accessible and highly engaging.

The chapter Genesis deals with the sun and the formation of the solar system, Mythology is devoted to Mercury and astronomers like Tycho Brahe, Copernicus and Kepler, and Beauty is reserved for Venus, where the poetry of amongst others, Blake, Wordsworth, Oliver Wendell Holmes and CS Lewis is quoted. Earth gets its turn in Geography (On Becoming a Planet), and the Moon in the chapter Lunacy.

Jupiter and the Galileo spacecraft are investigated in Astrology, whilst Music Of The Spheres is about Saturn and the music of the planets as represented by Holst in his Opus 32 and Kepler's book Harmonice Mundi in which he interpreted their motions as music. Uranus and Neptune are discussed in the chapter Discovery, and Pluto in UFO where the controversy on whether Pluto really is a planet is explored.

The concluding chapter Planeteers discusses the Cassini spacecraft and the Huygens probe which landed on Saturn's moon Titan in January 2005. The author concludes with the observation that the planets have always been stalwarts of human culture and the inspiration for much of mankind's higher-minded endeavor. The book concludes with a glossary, notes by chapter and a bibliography. There are black and white illustrations, photographs and maps throughout the text.

The PS section at the end contains an interview with the author by Travis Elborough, Sobel's favorite books and writers, Other books by Sobel and books she recommends, and an essay about the New Horizons spacecraft launched on 19th January 2006 on its 10 year journey to Pluto.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Affectionate look at our neighbours 16 Nov 2006
This is a lovely book. Rather than being a hard core, scientific tome, it is an affectionate and slightly quirky look at our neighbours. Sobel uses a number of literary devices to give us an overview of the history of the solar system. I think reviewers who complain about the chapter that mentions astrology are missing the point slightly! Astrology was regarded as a science for hundreds of years. This book charts the history of the planets, not just from their own perspective, but from ours. So it would be difficult to write such a book without including some reference to astrology. I thought it was nicely and quite playfully done. I notice that there are no references made to the first chapter, which worried me at first, because it tells the story of the formation of the planets in terms of the genesis creation myth. My first thought was "Oh no! Have I wandered into some sort of Intelligent Design book". But I soon realised the Sobel is trying to give the reader a view of how the planets, and our knowledge and perception of them has changed through history, so including a creation myth is a vital part of the story, as this is where some of our earliest ideas about the universe around us came from.

This is an affectionate portrait of the solar system, full of interesting detail and asides. It is a much more personal book that Ms Sobel's previous work and you feel you are getting a closer view of the author herself. I would especially recommend it to people who dont usually read popular science and to fans of more rigourous books. Its a gentle introduction to this type of book and certainly leaves you with the feeling that Ms Sobel is passionate about her subject.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Confused and Self Serving 27 Sep 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you have enjoyed any of the other Dava Sobel books, please avoid this. It is devoid of all the features that have made the other books so successful; personality, human triumph over aversity and scientific discovery. This is a mish-mash of science, psuedo-science and romantic nonsense in a disconnected series of chapters, none of which deliver the same type of story about their respective planet. Exceptionally dissapointing, it is difficult to know how such an accomplished author fell to these depths, it's almost as if this is a rushed text to meet some publishing deadline, hence cobbled together from half finished notes and musings. There are some good bits, but they are so difficult to find as to not be worth looking. There are some significantly better books available on the same topic, save your money for them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Sobel skilfully completes the often-difficult task of presenting factual scientific information in an enthralling and page turning format. She does this by using different styles of writing to describe each of the planets for example mythology for mercury, science-fiction for Mars. This resulted in some controversy particularly in the chapter on Jupiter where Sobel brings in astrology, but, as Sobel has subsequently defended, this is more about relating human culture and how the planets have been viewed in the past as a reference point for understanding how we view them today. Thus Sobel's pursuit is definitely a scientific one, whilst still allowing room for other cultural interpretations of the planets to be aired.

If you have any interest in our planetary neighbours this is a superb introduction that will leave you wanting to find out more.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Great book let down by poor formatting
Planets is a whistle-stop tour of the planets of the solar system. Dava Sobel's prose is a pleasure to read. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jeff Van Campen
2.0 out of 5 stars more astrology than science
I didn't finish this, although I read most of it. As it goes on, it felt like there was more and more astrology rather than actual science; and the astrology would usually be... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars The planets
This book contains many details and facts, but unlike others I have read, it is beautifuly written, almost poetic in style, which makes it more thought provoking, but also such a... Read more
Published on 18 Sep 2012 by Bill Crawford
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and engaging
I've read and been delighted by Longitude and Galileo's Daughter so when I came across "The Planets." I was intrigued and wanted to read it. Read more
Published on 9 April 2011 by Dr. Bojan Tunguz
4.0 out of 5 stars An Enchanting Tour Through the Solar System
"The Planets" is an enchanting tour through the solar system. On its pages the reader encounters the heavenly bodies through science, mythology and history. Read more
Published on 25 Nov 2010 by James Gallen
2.0 out of 5 stars Too flowery for me
This book was a little twee for my tastes. The first half was ok as an surface level description of the inner planets, but then it all started getting cute around Saturn and the... Read more
Published on 7 Nov 2009 by Sulkyblue
1.0 out of 5 stars Mostly meandering off-orbit
A particularly strange book that struggles to establish its reason for being. Walking through the planets of the solar system in turn, we are presented with a combination of data,... Read more
Published on 8 April 2009 by John Holland
4.0 out of 5 stars Planets
Another excellantly written book by this author. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and discovering things about the planets that i never knew.
Published on 14 Feb 2009 by T. Gardner
5.0 out of 5 stars Planets
Great book - wonderful non-technical style & yet transmits technical information clearly in a literary manner.
Published on 14 Feb 2009 by Paul L. Gerard
5.0 out of 5 stars Out of this world
Read on a train trip to Torquay, this was a delightful meander through the Solar System. Snippets of information, entertaining tangents, flights of fancy... Read more
Published on 6 Feb 2008 by Welly
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