on 9 July 2008
When considering our own planet, many textbooks tend to consider the various processes which have influenced the present surface composition and disposition, and put each neatly into a chapter of its own. This undergraduate textbook follows the same path but extends the subject matter to the component bodies of the solar system. So a discussion of oceans includes those of Earth (of course), but goes on to consider oceans past and putative on Venus, Mars and Europa, in the hope that a comparison of the phenomena will yield useful insights. In attempting to treat the various processes and aspects which go to form a solar system body - for instance impacts, volcanism, tectonics, oceans, icecaps and atmospheres - Vita-Finzi has produced an enjoyable book ahead of its time. The effect is a bit uneven, but the author cannot be blamed. Despite the sometimes stated truism that `we know more about the surface of Mars than our own abyssal plains', we do know more about, for example, Terrestrial tectonism than that on any other planet or satellite. The same is true (thanks to field work on Earth currently being easier than on other planets, despite H&S restrictions) for all other processes described in this book, apart perhaps from studies of impacts. And even then we have the benefit of samples from our comparatively few craters.
The book is a pleasure to read for its breadth of scope, its compact size, the useful glossary, and the few pages of colour plates. But the large amount of black and white photos in the remainder of the book do a disservice to the exquisite colour images coming out of planetary exploration. The illustrations are generous in number but meagre in splendour. The price will please most students and the production of the book, as with many other Terra Publishing products, is solid, if a little plain.
Much has been discovered on Mars, Mercury and in the Saturnian system since this book has been published. If the book makes it to a second edition, colour throughout and a comprehensive update will be much needed.