Carl Sagan served as the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy
and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary
Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the
Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo spacecraft expeditions, for
which he received the NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific
Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service.
His Emmy- and Peabody-winning television series, Cosmos, became the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. The accompanying book, also called Cosmos, is one of the bestselling science books ever published in the English language. Dr. Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize, the Oersted Medal, and many other awards-including twenty honorary degrees from American colleges and universities-for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment. In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honor, the National Science Foundation declared that his "research transformed planetary science . . . his gifts to mankind were infinite." Dr. Sagan died on December 20, 1996.
In a book completed less than two months before his death, Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World, etc.) compels his readers to look at life. Although many of the essays here have appeared previously, they gain power through juxtaposition and new commentary. They portray humankind as a favored species on a fragile world, facing the profound impact that 20th-century technology will have on its future. Six essays on "The Power of Beauty of Quantification" celebrate science and the insights it gives us into the cosmos, our planet and our species. Seven more, exploring the question "What are Conservatives Conserving?," discuss the political and economic factors that have led to quite different international responses to two environmental threats: the "ozone hole" and global warming. These pieces culminate with a joint appeal from scientific and religious leaders committed to saving the planet. The interplay among scientific, religious and political thought continues in the closing set of six essays, "Where Hearts and Minds Collide." Here, Sagan prompts readers to look beyond their own lives and to the preservation of our species and our world. As the author's widow, Ann Druyan, writes in her epilogue, "For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at [the moment of death] when anyone would be forgiven from turning away from the reality of the situation, Carl was unflinching." So should we be, says this book; the life of our species on our delicately balanced planet depends on it. (June)
It is doubtful that there is anyone unfamiliar with noted astronomer and science writer Sagan's ability to convey the wonder, excitement, and joy of science. This book is a wonderful, if eclectic, collection of essays, some reprinted from magazines of national prominence, covering a wide range of topics: the invention of chess, life on Mars, global warming, abortion, international affairs, the nature of government, and the meaning of morality. Writing with clarity and an understanding of human nature, Sagan offers hope for humanity's future as he illuminates our ability to understand ourselves and to change the world for the better. The last chapter is an account of his struggle with myelodysplasia, the illness that finally took his life in December 1996. An epilog written by his wife is a personal account of the man rather than the scientist admired by so many. This last book is a fitting capstone to a distinguished career. Enthusiastically recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/97.]‘James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
"[Sagan's] writing brims with optimism, clarity and
compassion."-Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
"Sagan used the spotlight of his fame to illuminate the abyss into which stupidity, greed, and the lust for power may yet dump us. All of those interests and causes are handsomely represented in Billions & Billions."-The Washington Post Book World
"Astronomer Carl Sagan didn't live to see the millennium, but he probably has done more than any other popular scientist to prepare us for its arrival."-Atlanta Journal & Constitution
"Billions & Billions can be interpreted as the Silent Spring for the current generation. . . . Human history includes a number of leaders with great minds who gave us theories about our universe and origins that ran contrary to religious dogma. Galileo determined that the Earth revolved around the Sun, not the other way around. Darwin challenged Creationism with his Evolution of Species. And now, Sagan has given the world its latest challenge: Billions & Billions."-San Antonio Express-News
"[Sagan's] inspiration and boundless curiosity live on in the gift of his work."-Seattle Times & Post-Intelligencer
"Couldn't stay awake in your high school science classes? This book can help fill in the holes. Acclaimed scientist Carl Sagan combines his logic and knowledge with wit and humor to make a potentially dry subject enjoyable to read."-The Dallas Morning News