The author of The Riddle of the Dinosaur (1986) and The Mapmakers (1981) turns his hand to humanity's next frontier--in this lucid and highly engaging account of what it will take to get to Mars, what we'll find, and why we should go. An object of particular fascination since prehistoric times, the Red Planet got a giant public-relations boost in the late 1800's with Mars enthusiast Percival Lowell's contention that Mars almost certainly fostered intelligent life. ""The planet possessed him,"" Wilford writes of this Boston Brahmin who financed his own observatory in order to substantiate his dreams of artificial Martian canals and alien cities. His claims inspired a turn-of-the-century rash of controversy over the nature of life on Mars, leading to the creation of The War of the Worlds and other science fiction that in turn sparked the imaginations of ""a generation of eight-year-olds""--our current astrophysicists yearning to set foot on Mars today. Though the Mariner and Viking probes have since rendered extremely slim the likelihood of any sort of life on Mars, our advancing technology has brought forth another possibility: long-term human habitation, not only in insulated research stations but--through the use of ""terraforming,"" the development of an Earth-like atmosphere--in ordinary, open-air cities. If politics, economics, and a step-by-step plan for long-term space exploration and settlement stand behind us, Wilford concludes, the ever-awaited Martians may one day be ourselves. An entertaining, concise historical perspective--with a most intriguing vision of Mars' potential future.