Ah, the glamorous life of the astrophysicist, scaling ancient pyramids, foiling the enemies of the state, getting the girl… No, wait, that’s archaeologists. In fact, the world of astronomy is a long way from wine, women and song as Mike Brown relates in his HOW I KILLED PLUTO AND WHY IT HAD IT COMING. The long arduous processes that the world-at-large is unaware of are the core of this book, and it could be boring.
Could be, but it isn’t.
I do like a book that gives me that sense of being smarter at the end. Like Stephen Hawking’s landmark A Brief History of Time, Brown’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming takes readers into the fairly unknown world of astronomy and astrophysics and makes it accessible and understandable. That’s no mean trick, there is a lot of math involved in this stuff and Brown boils it down and relates it in a way that I didn’t have to go back and reread to know what we were actually talking about. (And some “popular” books in this genre are very much that way.)
How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming is the story of Brown’s quest for a planet, trying enter that tiny group of men who have discovered a planet in our solar system. What his years and years of work results in is not the addition of a planet, but the downgrading of Pluto to “dwarf planet”. Along the way he records the backlash of, well, practically everybody, from the scientific community to hate mail from grade school students.
Brown also shares his life as he shares his work, so as the search for a planet, and the politics of astronomy are the center of the action, his family and his life are a part of it as well and make the book that much more enjoyable. I found his insights into physics fun and meaningful and they will stick with me for years, far longer I’m sure than the long forgotten formulas I labored over in college.
This is possibly one of the most readable books in the genre, easily surpassing the ones that have come before. Brown explains things like how they predict the orbit of planets years in the future in simple terms without making the reader feel like an idiot. I really hate that and have set books aside because of that. I know I don’t know a lot about this stuff, that’s why I’m reading the book. And Brown made me feel smarter, more knowledgeable. I know why poor Pluto had to die, I know why it had it coming and even better, thanks to Brown’s wonderful book I can actually explain it to someone else. Whether you are an astronomy buff, or are just curious how a planet becomes not a planet, How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming is a fascinating and entertaining read.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars | Publisher: Spiegel & Grau | Pages: 288 | Source: Purchased | Buy on Amazon