Book review: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

5/5 stars

Audible version, narrated by (mostly) Seth MacFarlane.

So this is definitely out of my comfort zone, but boy did I enjoy it! I find science in general and space and astronomy/astrophysics in particular really fascinating, but it’s not exactly my forte.

Growing up I guess I was always more interested in/encouraged to pursue the arts, and science took kind of a back seat (it doesn’t help that I’m horrible at maths – I still have nightmares about having to take my high school maths exam). At some point (around the late 90s when the Star Wars original trilogy was re-released) I got more and more into science fiction, and a natural consequence of that was also more of an interest in science fact. What are they making up and what could actually happen? And then a few years ago the movie Interstellar came into my life and completely blew my mind. I’ve watched it quite a few times since and am equally mesmerised each time. One of the things that’s most fascinating about Interstellar is how grounded it is in science fact, and how it extrapolates based on what we know to create an incredible vision of a possible future.

This was also something I loved about Cosmos (yes, this rambling intro actually had a point – sort of). Sagan gives a very good overview of the cosmos and the history of science, but he also extrapolates and dreams based on these facts. And he is a damn good writer. I don’t very often listen to non-fiction audiobooks because I find my mind wanders too easily if I don’t have a structured and exciting narrative to listen to, and while that did happen now and then with Cosmos as well, Sagan always dragged me back in again quickly with his compelling writing, his dreams and his enthusiasm.

Of course by now it’s quite a while since this book was published and a lot has happened in the last 25-30 years in regards to space exploration and what we know about the universe, but since Sagan’s work is mostly about the basics and the origins it remains relevant. His writing is also really accessible – Sagan wanted to bring science to everyone – so even dummies like me can understand what he’s talking about. That being said, even if you’re well acquainted with astrophysics and the cosmos it’s still worth a read just because of how well written it is and because Sagan’s enthusiasm for his subject is so contagious.

Topics visited are very wide-reaching, such as early world exploration and philosophy, whale songs, the threat of nuclear war, how information is stored in our cells, the journeys of Voyager 1 and 2 and what the information we have learned about our solar system means, the probability of (intelligent) alien life and what that life may be like, the works of Kepler, Galileo, Einstein, Newton and many more, and what it means that space is curved and how we know that the universe is expanding. Although a huge variety of topics are covered (mostly superficially, but enough to understand the basics), the book has a good structure and “wholeness”.

It definitely made me want to read more about several of the topics mentioned and excited my curiosity as well as my imagination.

Seth MacFarlane does a good reading of the book, though I think I’d like to get a written copy at some point too, as it’s nice to be able to re-read, stop up and look something up (of course you can do that with an audiobook too but I mainly use them when exercising). Also, apparently the actual book has illustrations, which would be a nice addition.

Science was Sagan’s religion; and he preaches it so well that it sometimes gives me goosebumps.

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