Sagan as essayist is no Bronowski. He is, however, a dedicated and persuasive expositor of ideas, and not afraid to try out...

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BROCA'S BRAIN: Reflections on the Romance of Science

Sagan as essayist is no Bronowski. He is, however, a dedicated and persuasive expositor of ideas, and not afraid to try out new ones. In particular, he passionately defends the motives and style of science as an objective seeker of truth. This collection offers a number of hard-fact pieces along with philosophical musings, the common theme being the human mind as curious explorer, ever motivated to find order in nature. ""Broca's Brain,"" the title essay, describes Sagan's emotional reaction to the vials of preserved brains in a Parisian museum, including that of the 19th-century anatomist celebrated for his discovery of the language center of the brain in the left hemisphere. A sense of awe is conveyed, along with a disquieting grisliness. There follow essays on ""good"" science--reactions to Einstein, reflections on a grain of salt, etc.; and then comes a major section on hoaxes and hucksters, from mediums to the von Danikens and Velikovskys. The sections dealing with space exploration and cosmology are fine summaries of present knowledge which underscore the major role played by manned and unmanned space vehicles in making astronomy an experimentally verifiable rather than a purely theoretical science. The concluding sections, in turn, speculate on the future of astronomy and on man's need to believe. Sagan amusingly records events that made the astronomical journals 75 years ago and ponders what an equal time leap will make of us today. And in the last, extraordinary essay, he suggests that a common basis for all religion may be the birth process with its watery Eden, followed by pain, the dark tunnel, and then light and the world--a vision calculated to afford any variety of religious or nonreligious souls! So, a mixed, often surprising bag of treats by a scientist who merits applause and attention.

Pub Date: May 31, 1979

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1979