For the last three months or I’ve been wanting to start a series called “About Time I Read It”, in which I feature books that were popular and critically acclaimed a number of years ago but for whatever reason I haven’t taken the time to read until just recently. The first such book in the series is Dava Sobel’s The Planets. Published in 2005, Sobel’s book is an almost lyrical trip through solar system with corresponding chapters devoted to the planets, the sun, our moon and the recently downgraded to “Kupier Belt Object” Pluto. Sobel, also author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter and the recently published A More Perfect Heaven I thought did a fine job producing a very readable and informative book that occupies a pleasant middle ground between hard science and pure entertainment. Writing imaginatively but with clarity and elegance, her descriptions of the heavenly bodies incorporate not only science but history, music, mythology and even the author’s personal experiences.
It seems like most essay collections have pieces that stand out and some that are weaker than the rest, so naturally Sobel’s book is no exception. While the chapter on the distant and mysterious Pluto I found surprisingly good, (considering just how little we know about that particular heavenly object), the chapter devoted to the Earth, in addition to the chapter on the “ice giants” Uranus and Neptune might have been two of the least entertaining parts of the book. But taken as part of a greater whole, The Planets is a rather nice example of science writing that is entertaining while at the same time educational.