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Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science and Civilisation (1980)

by Carl Sagan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,149751,013 (4.37)82
This visually stunning book with over 250 full-color illustrations, many of them never before published, is based on Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part television series. Told with Sagan’s remarkable ability to make scientific ideas both comprehensible and exciting,Cosmosis about science in its broadest human context, how science and civilization grew up together. The book also explores spacecraft missions of discovery of the nearby planets, the research in the Library of ancient Alexandria, the human brain, Egyptian hieroglyphics, the origin of life, the death of the Sun, the evolution of galaxies and the origins of matter, suns and worlds. Sagan retraces the fifteen billion years of cos-mic evolution that have transformed matter into life and consciousness, enabling the Cosmos to wonder about itself. He considers the latest findings on life elsewhere and how we might communicate with the beings of other worlds. Cosmosis the story of our long journey of discovery and the forces and individuals who helped to shape modern science, including Democritus, Hypatia, Kepler, Newton, Huy-gens, Champollion, Lowell and Humason. Sagan looks at our planet from an extra-terrestrial vantage point and sees a blue jewel-like world, inhabited by a lifeform that is just beginning to discover its own unity and to ven-ture into the vast ocean of space.… (more)
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WARNING: The following is from the perspective of an ardent theist. I'm not looking to debate anybody here; I'm merely making a note of my own thoughts on the book for my own reference later on should I, over the course of the years, forget what I thought about the book.

I don't get the hype. The writing was void of any coherence or smooth transitions from one topic to the next. Here we are talking about the surface of a planet like Mars, then suddenly the ancient Greeks and whales are discussed...in the same chapter...then it's back to the planet to talk about the atmosphere. What?

When Sagan touches on actual science and history, he is often spot-on (and I'm totally with him on the Library of Alexandria, although he was off the mark in his assertion regarding its role in the preservation of biblical manuscripts); but much of this book is anti-religion, naturalistic philosophy and speculation masquerading as "confirmed, data-backed" science, even though much of what he uses to back up his ideas, particularly the evolutionary ones, are obsolete (even in his own camp's opinion), debunked, fraudulent, or simply incomplete.

This is as much a religious work as it is a science work; in the last chapter in particular, replace 'science' with 'faith,' and you are reading Sagan's humanistic catechism.

Finally, I expected a book called Cosmos to be a bit more about, I don't know, SPACE! As much as 30% of the book was history and 15% to 20% naturalistic philosophy; there wasn't much space left for space, I'm afraid. ( )
1 vote djlinick | Jan 15, 2022 |
156
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
A Brilliant Book. Pretty much a full education in one book. History, Geography, Mythology, Maths, Language, Astronomy, Biology and Chemistry. Published around 1980 as a tie in to the award winning TV series, it is now 40 years old. The History is still valid, but some of the Astronomy is now out of date. But I find this still to be a great read!! (less) ( )
  Robloz | Sep 23, 2021 |
Carl Sagan

Cosmos

Ballantine Books, Paperback [2013].

8vo. xxix+396 pp. “Reflections on Carl Sagan’s Cosmos” by Neil deGrasse Tyson [xii-xv]. Foreword by Ann Druyan [xvii-xx]. Introduction by Sagan, May 1980 and July 1984 [xxi-xxix]. Index [384-96]. 16 pp. with colour illustrations.

First published, 1980.
This edition first published, 2013.

Contents

Reflections on Carl Sagan’s Cosmos by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Foreword by Ann Druyan
Introduction

I. The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean
II. One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue
III. Harmony of the Worlds
IV. Heaven and Hell
V. Blues for a Red Planet
VI. Travellers’ Tales
VII. The Backbone of Night
VIII. Journeys in Space and Time
IX. The Lives of the Stars
X. The Edge of Forever
XI. The Persistence of Memory
XII. Encyclopaedia Galactica
XIII. Who Speaks for Earth?

Appendix 1: Reductio ad Absurdum and the Square Root of Two
Appendix 2: The Five Pythagorean Solids
For Further Reading
Index

===============================================

In a nutshell, the book is better than the series but nowhere near as good as it could and should have been. The arresting opening sentence – “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” – gave Sagan the perfect excuse to derail into off-topic. And derail he did! Most of his pet notions – scientific inquiry, nuclear disarmament – are admirable and well worth some non-fiction propaganda. But Sagan grossly overdoes it. Time and again, rhetorical and poetic almost to the point of no endurance, he raves about the great achievements and even greater promise of our species or, even more tediously, rails against the great dangers of the present and even bleaker prospects for the future. These leitmotifs finally culminate into “Who Speaks for Earth?”, a massive anti-climax of the whole book.

After that great opening sentence and part of the first chapter – well, it’s a steady downhill from there. The book never really lives up to its title. Much of it – indeed, most of it! – is history of science: mostly related to space exploration, not necessarily related to the cosmos. Rambling and repetitious, too! How many times do we have to hear about Eratosthenes and the Alexandrian library? Why so much space dedicated to the molecular basis of life, the biography of Kepler, the galaxy of Greek philosophers and so many other fascinating but hardly relevant subjects? Technically, of course, our species and its whole history are part of the cosmos. Technically, too, we have come from the stars, although this either carries our ancestry way too far or can easily be misinterpreted as fairly recent alien origin for which there is no evidence whatsoever. I certainly didn’t expect so much of our parochial Earthly history in a book titled Cosmos.

The best I can say is that Sagan is honest with his readers from the beginning. This book and the series, he says in the Introduction, are “a hopeful experiment in communicating some of the ideas, methods and joys of science.” Fair enough. But then the title should have been Science. Of course, Sagan does discuss possible life on other worlds, the nature of stars, gravitational collapse, relativistic spaceflight, black holes, galaxies, quasars, supernovae and other truly universal questions. But he does so only by the way, almost exclusively in three chapters only (VIII to X). He is much more concerned with the origin and evolution of life on Earth, with the marvels of science and the impending nuclear holocaust, with religion, philosophy, superstition and what not that have flourished on this planet alone. All this is lively and lucidly, sometimes poetically and even beautifully, written. But it has nothing to do with the book’s title. And it’s not what I came here for. I guess I was a victim of dishonest marketing.

Deeply flawed as it is, the book is still the thing. The film has aged badly. I can have enough of Sagan’s spaceship, the crude editing, the endless repetitions, the musical intrusions and, above all, the author’s awed countenance. The special effects are laughably dated. There are moments of beauty, to be sure, but the journey is harder – and preachier! – than the one on paper. And yet the book, readable and informative though it is, fails completely to convey anything like the scale and complexity of the universe, not to mention the sheer sense of wonder that the Cosmos ought to evoke in every thinking creature. At any rate, it has failed with me. Three out of thirteen chapters are not enough. This Cosmos is far too much Earth-bound!

Sorry, Carl! I expected a good deal more from you. I came for the beauty, the grandeur and the mystery of the Universe. I found mostly the petty concerns of Homo sapiens and our puny attempts to explore mostly one small planet and its cosmic backyard, the solar system. This is just not good enough. This Cosmos goes to the give-away pile. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Sep 20, 2021 |
Carl Sagan waxes lyrical on the cosmos and on humanity's place in it. ( )
  Charon07 | Jul 16, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (63 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sagan, CarlAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aulicino, RobertDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dr. Vivek PoonthiyilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Druyan, AnnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tyson, Neil deGrasseForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Ann Druyan; In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and an epoch with Annie.
First words
In ancient times, in everyday speech and custom, the most mundane happenings were connected with the grandest cosmic events. [Introduction p. xi]
The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. [Main Text, p. 4]
Quotations
The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.
We have heard so far the voice of life on one small world only. But we have at last begun to listen for other voices in the cosmic fugue.
We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish among:
  • Carl Sagan's original television series, Cosmos (1980);
  • this similarly titled companion book, (1980);
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson's similarly titled television series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014); and
  • Anne Druyan's sequel to Sagan's works, Cosmos: Possible Worlds (2019).
Publisher's editors
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Canonical LCC
This visually stunning book with over 250 full-color illustrations, many of them never before published, is based on Carl Sagan’s thirteen-part television series. Told with Sagan’s remarkable ability to make scientific ideas both comprehensible and exciting,Cosmosis about science in its broadest human context, how science and civilization grew up together. The book also explores spacecraft missions of discovery of the nearby planets, the research in the Library of ancient Alexandria, the human brain, Egyptian hieroglyphics, the origin of life, the death of the Sun, the evolution of galaxies and the origins of matter, suns and worlds. Sagan retraces the fifteen billion years of cos-mic evolution that have transformed matter into life and consciousness, enabling the Cosmos to wonder about itself. He considers the latest findings on life elsewhere and how we might communicate with the beings of other worlds. Cosmosis the story of our long journey of discovery and the forces and individuals who helped to shape modern science, including Democritus, Hypatia, Kepler, Newton, Huy-gens, Champollion, Lowell and Humason. Sagan looks at our planet from an extra-terrestrial vantage point and sees a blue jewel-like world, inhabited by a lifeform that is just beginning to discover its own unity and to ven-ture into the vast ocean of space.

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