The search retains an irresistible fascination, and this enthusiastic account brings readers up to date.

THE SEARCH FOR LIFE ON MARS

THE GREATEST SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE STORY OF ALL TIME

A new account of the scientific quest that “promises to spring even more amazing surprises in the years to come.”

Journalists Howell and Booth, as well as most experts, agree that Martian life would likely resemble that on Earth, and earthly organisms are tough. They can thrive without oxygen or sunlight, at temperatures above boiling and below freezing, and in the presence of strong acids, toxic metals, and poisons. However, none exist without water. The good news is that Mars has water. The bad news is that its surface is bone dry. In the era before spacecraft, many observers believed in life on Mars, led by the brilliant, wealthy Percival Lowell (1855-1916), who built his own observatory, saw the iconic canals, and never doubted that they represented works of an advanced civilization. The general public—but few astronomers—agreed until the pioneering 1965 Mariner 4 flyby revealed a cratered moonlike surface, an atmosphere 1/100 thinner than ours, and a temperature of minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The authors deliver a densely detailed account of subsequent unmanned flybys, orbiters, and landers whose missions have returned an avalanche of new geological, chemical, and meteorological discoveries that thrill scientists but may overwhelm general readers. Two more landers should launch soon, and much is expected. The authors conclude that most—but not all—experts consider Mars dead except, perhaps, deep underground, where liquid water may persist. A better environment existed billions of years ago, with volcanoes providing heat and gases, hot springs, and bodies of water that lasted perhaps 100 million years. “Conditions have deteriorated from earlier states into the freezing tundra-like world we see today,” write the authors, who provide the latest on the possibility of Martian life and proof that we probably won’t know for sure until humans set foot.

The search retains an irresistible fascination, and this enthusiastic account brings readers up to date. (32 color photos)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-950691-39-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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