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on 20 February 2014
Planets is a whistle-stop tour of the planets of the solar system. Dava Sobel's prose is a pleasure to read. The narratives she spins for each planet, while sometimes a bit silly, are always compelling.

The Kindle edition of this book, however, is poorly converted. Quotations are badly formatted and the illustrations are completely missing. If you want to read this book and enjoy it as it was meant to be read, buy the print edition.

(The print edition, which I bought when I have up in the Kindle edition, deserves four stars.)
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on 3 October 2017
Nice book. Different to her other book ‘Longitude’, I bought it as a holiday read and would normally have left it at the hotel for someone else to read, but brought it home to read again!
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on 16 November 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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on 20 February 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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on 16 September 2006
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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on 9 April 2011
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. I knew even before I bought the book that it would be nothing like the other two by Dava Sobel, but by now she has established herself as a great writer and I trusted her and her instincts. If she wanted to take an unorthodox trip across the Solar System, I was all too willing to buy a ticket for the journey. And it was a refreshingly new look at the landscape that I thought I had already known all too well and have become a bit jaded with. Part informative, part imaginative this book both entertains and educates. It is well suited for both young and old readers. Each planet gets its own "voice" and is approached and dealt with from a unique point of view. The two works of art - one in fiction one in music - which this book reminds me of are Italo Calvino's "Cosmicomics" and Gustav Holst's "The Planets." Like Calvino and Holst, Dava Sobel possesses a rare gift of imagination and skill to bring a potentially dry subject and weave it into something that entices us and enthralls us. That's why I decided to recommend this book to my college Astronomy class that I teach this year.
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on 27 September 2010
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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on 6 February 2008
Read on a train trip to Torquay, this was a delightful meander through the Solar System. Snippets of information, entertaining tangents, flights of fancy...all perfect for those wanting to read something escapist and interesting but probably a nightmare to the 'shoes in a strait line' scientific reader. This is not the book for you if you want to know the specific gravity of Io or if you need to calatlogue the rotation speeds of Neptune's moons.

It is the sort of book that you read in order for your mind to go somewhere else. There are plenty of fascinating passages, but there are also lots of gentle pushes from Sobel that launch you off into a completely seperate set of thoughts that will see you returning in a page or two's time having missed the book's action but, nevertheless, had a fine time. It will drive scientific minds mad. I'm OK with that.
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on 25 November 2010
"The Planets" is an enchanting tour through the solar system. On its pages the reader encounters the heavenly bodies through science, mythology and history.

Author Dava Sobel introduces the reader to the physical attributes of each planet, its composition, whether rocky, gas, solid or molten, its atmosphere and weather. She explores the evidence, or lack thereof, for life and the reasons why a particular body may or may not harbor life somewhere on or in its sphere.

This book is not limited to the eight known planets, but also includes the moons of the earth and other planets, "The Planets" is an enchanting tour through the solar system. On its pages the reader encounters the heavenly bodies through science, mythology and history.

Author Dava Sobel introduces the reader to the physical attributes of each planet, its composition, whether rocky, gas, solid or molten, its atmosphere and weather. She explores the evidence, or lack thereof, for life and the reasons why a particular body may or may not harbor life somewhere on or in its sphere.

This book is not limited to the eight known planets, but also includes the moons of the earth and other planets, Khyber Belt Objects, those betwixt and between objects, too small to be planets but too large to be asteroids orbiting beyond Neptune, the most famous of which is the former planet, Pluto, and the objects of the asteroid belt.

Although I knew a fair amount about the solar system before reading this book, I learned much from it. While scientifically informative, the writing style is easy to follow and entertaining. For anyone with a thirst for knowledge about our solar system, "The Planets" is a good place to start.
Belt Objects, those betwixt and between objects, too small to be planets but too large to be asteroids orbiting beyond Neptune, the most famous of which is the former planet, Pluto, and the objects of the asteroid belt.

Although I knew a fair amount about the solar system before reading this book, I learned much from it. While scientifically informative, the writing style is easy to follow and entertaining. For anyone with a thirst for knowledge about our solar system, "The Planets" is a good place to start.
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on 29 December 2007
I started to read this book because I wanted to have a brief summary of what is known about the planets in our own solar system and because I had enjoyed "Longitude" by the same author. Sobel succeeds in her task by taking a well-worked subject and finding a new angle with which to approach it. In this book she has each chapter based around a planet but selects a different entry point to the topic each time, through for example an imagined letter from one of the characters involved at the times of discovery or through poetry or ancient myths. This approach is fresh and lively but at the same time is a vehicle by which to introduce just enough facts about each planet to be informative. For those who want a more detailed presentation of astronomy this book is not the one; in fact I could imagine it irritating some readers as it flirts with the mystical awe of the solar system as well as presenting the scientific knowledge available. However, if you want an interesting mix of fact, historical context and a glimpse of wonder in an engaging style then "The Planets" provides a perfect read.
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