Lives of the Planets

Well, it took me six days to read book five in my goal of 10 books this month – Lives of the Planets by Richard Corfield. Even though it took me a while to finish this book, I’m still on schedule to get all 10 books read…as long as I don’t try to read any more science books!

I’m obsessed with outer space. I don’t really know why, but ever since I was a little kid I’ve had my head in the stars. So, I was feeling a little bad about myself this month that I’d read two novels that were under 200 pages each (The Hellbound Heart, and The House of Dead Maids). I found Lives of the Planets at the book store last week, and thought it would be a great opportunity to read something a little different than I normally read (you know, like Harry Potter.)

Here is the description of the novel, from

Lives of the Planets describes a scientific field in the midst of a revolution. Planetary science has mainly been a descriptive science, but it is becoming increasingly experimental. The space probes that went up between the 1960s and 1990s were primarily generalists-they collected massive amounts of information so that scientists could learn what questions to pursue. But recent missions have become more focused: Scientists know better what information they want and how to collect it. Even now probes are on their way to Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Pluto, with Europa-one of Jupiter’s moons-on the agenda. In a sweeping look into the manifold objects inhabiting the depths of space, Lives of the Planets delves into the mythology and the knowledge humanity has built over the ages. Placing our current understanding in historical context, Richard Corfield explores the seismic shifts in planetary astronomy and probes why we must change our perspective of our place in the universe. In our era of extraordinary discovery, this is the first comprehensive survey of this new understanding and the history of how we got here.
Richard Corfield,  Lives of the Planets
I really found this book to be an easy read, even though it’s scientific. It’s definitely not written like a text-book, so that helps. Still, I wouldn’t recommend reading this unless you are an outer-space nerd like I am.
Also, there were a couple of passages in the novel that were really almost poetic. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes I’d come across a passage that I’d have to read to my husband because it was written so well.
Our sun is currently in middle age, with all the usual accoutrements of that comfortable time of life; it is well regarded at the center of the community with nine, or given the demotion of Pluto, now eight kids, sixty-odd grandchildren, and a stable income of hydrogen.
– Richard Corfield
And my favorite, a passage describing Christmas Day 2004, when the Cassini-Huygens space probe was getting ready to transmit information back to Earth about Saturn’s moon Titan:
From Saturn, to Pasadena in California, to Bob’s home north of Oxford, to my own home in a small West Oxfordshire village, we were tiny humans celebrating the birth of a two thousand-year-old carpenter while waiting for a message from the edge of the solar system.
– Richard Corfield
The novel explains the history of space exploration, from the ancient people who built Stonehenge, to the probes that are in space today. It does it in a way that the everyday man can read – even though sometimes it explains some scientific equations. I have taken two astronomy classes in college, and most of the equations left me thinking, huh!?! But they didn’t detour my reading at all, and they by no means make up the bulk of the novel.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars – if you like science or astronomy in any way.

2 thoughts on “Lives of the Planets

    • Pluto, come back to us!!!! Poor Pluto, I still love it. I did learn in that book that Charon, Pluto’s “moon” might not actually be a moon, because the gravitational pull lies in the middle of Pluto and Charon, instead of on Pluto… Like with the Earth and the moon the gravitational pull lies on the Earth, but Pluto and Charon might be a binary system, but they just haven’t figured that out yet. right now it’s still classified as Pluto’s moon.

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