on 15 December 2001
I'm not going to talk about the planet Mars here, because if you're reading this then you're almost certainly already "into" Mars, you know what an amazing planet it is, and are just checking out this review because you're wondering to yourself if you should fork out for yet another Mars-related book, wondering if it has anything new to offer you, if it's different to any of the other books about Mars sitting there on your shelf...
Well, let me set your mind at rest. Yes, you should write that cheque or give that credit card number; yes, it has a lot of new material and information to offer you. And yes, it is different to those other volumes gathering dust on your shelf. So different, in fact, that if you buy this new book, you can probably give most of your existing Mars library to Oxfam, because if you buy MARS then you won't need any other Mars book for quite a while.
MARS basically takes a deep breath and draws a line under everything we've learned about Mars to date. Spaceprobes, telescopic observations, they're all in there. The exietence of water, past and present, on Mars is covered in great detail, as is the fascinating but hair-tearingly frustrating "Search for Life", either in-situ, by the Viking experiments, or at long range, by peering into the (in)famous "Mars Meteorite". Everyone who is anyone is inbetween the covers. Read this book and you'll see all those names on the JPL websites etc as real people, I promise you.
But what makes the book special - and I don't use the word lightly - is it's tone. When you read MARS, it's like having the two accomplished authors sitting there in your front room, talking to you personally, giving you an audio-visual presentation on the Red Planet. They travelled the world to write this book, it's a labour of love, and reading it takes the reader on a journey around Earth, and then on into space, to learn about Mars. The artwork and photos used to illustrate the informal, chatty text are all first class, and even I - a rampant "Red" opposed to terraforming - have to admit that the artwork of a future "Blue Mars" is quite lovely.
When I saw MARS on a shelf my first thought was "That's a big book..." Having bought it, and read it, in fact devoured it, I still think that. But it's not just big physically, it's big in terms of ambition, and emotion too. The authors love Mars, it's a real world to them.
I honestly wouldn't be surprised if it's taken to Mars by one of the crew members on the first expedition.
on 12 May 2006
I don't think this is the only book about Mars you will ever need. I was disappointed with it for several reasons. Though I think it's well out of date now but I have a few points to make about the book.
The authors seem hooked on the theory that the Viking probes that landed on Mars in 1976 found evidence for life. This has been discredited very long ago (and increasingly discredited with all the new discoveries being made about Mars) and is now only advocated by essentially one person (Gil Levin now in his 80s) who is pathologically and irrationally wedded to the idea. The book is scientifically unbalanced. It is also full of clichés about Mars that a cursory level of research would have found out were untrue. They say the Saturn Five rocket on its side at the Kennedy Space Center could fly to Mars tomorrow if it was fuelled - what nonsense.
But more than this, the style of writing of the book irritated me. It is written in a sub A-level standard of prose with no flare, intelligent use of language or narrative sense. The books structure is all over the place. In one place (page 13) the authors actually use the word enormity as though it meant "an enormous thing." I was puzzled as to why, after so many years writing books, the two authors cannot write and then I realised that for many years they have not written an adult book, just a smattering of words for children's book that are mainly illustrations.
The conceit of the authors irritated me as well. The text is full of themselves, making one suspect that this is their favourite topic not Mars or astronomy. They say they are sitting on a veranda having drinks, jetting off, called by the BBC's science correspondent, etc, etc...enough, enough. If the authors want to write like that they need considerably more skill to pull it off.
In short - nice pictures, amateurish text, poor research, out of date.