Suffused with serpentine theatrics and scientific wonder, this is a consistently compelling, top-notch documentation of...



An exploration of the fascinating science and complex bureaucracy behind the first journey to Pluto.

Stern, the principal investigator and project leader of NASA’s New Horizons program, and astrobiologist Grinspoon (Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future, 2016, etc.) deliver a meticulously detailed, riveting chronicle of America’s history-making mission to Pluto, escorting readers through the immense hurdles and hard work involved in the landmark mission. The authors first trace the history of solar system explorations like those conducted by Voyager 2 in the 1980s and contrast those ventures to the Pluto project and the myriad challenges scientists faced when embarking on that inaugural mission to enter its atmosphere. Though backed by legions of “Plutophiles” and motivated by the discovery of the Kuiper Belt ring where Pluto is located, the project became shrouded in doubt, pessimism, and red tape, all leading up to the mission’s epic launch. In 2015, despite software timing glitches, the fly-by happened at 31,000 miles per hour. The New Horizons probe approached Pluto and snapped photographs and collected data, breaking new ground in American aerospace ventures while reinvigorating widespread public fascination with interstellar travel. The book is helmed by two dynamic narrators who had compared notes via an extended series of weekly telephone conversations; their expertise and undeniable passion for aeronautics remain contagious throughout all of the episodes of frustration and triumphant exhilaration. The authors skillfully capture the hopes and dreams of a team of enterprising scientists and engineers and incorporate fascinating details from the spacecraft’s construction and its intricate calculations as well as all of the political melodrama of advisory committees and staunch supporters surrounding the journey. Stern and Grinspoon’s record of this epic project is thoroughly captivating; as a bonus for die-hard space buffs, the authors include an appendix that lists the top 10 scientific discoveries from the New Horizons Pluto mission.

Suffused with serpentine theatrics and scientific wonder, this is a consistently compelling, top-notch documentation of intrepid planetary exploration.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-09896-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2018

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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