The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favourite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson

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The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favourite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: A history of Pluto, from its discovery in 1930, to its downgrading to dwarf planet status in 2006. The Pluto Files is fascinating, educational and hilarious. As popular science goes, it strikes a perfect balance between popular and science. Heartily recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 194 Date: February 2009
Publisher: W W Norton and Co
ISBN: 978-0393065206

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As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson grouped the celestial bodies by type, rather than listing them under the arbitrary heading of 'planets'. This put Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars together in one group, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune together in another, and left poor little Pluto out in the cold. His aim was for people to gain a greater understanding, rather than just knowing the names. The result was widespread outrage amongst newspapers, schoolchildren and the public at large. It was a scientifically-sound position, and ultimately fuelled the International Astronomical Union to define what was and wasn't a planet. The Pluto Files is a fascinating, educational and hilarious journey from Pluto's discovery, through its rise in public consciousness (by way of Disney), to the controversy about its planetary status, its ultimate downgrading, and the public's response to it.

The clear highlight of The Pluto Files are the letters from schoolchildren that Tyson received. They're bristling with honesty, and I could read them all day. I'm sorely tempted just to copy them all out here, but I'll limit myself to just a couple of tasters:

Dear Natural History Museum. You are missing planet Pluto. Please make a model of it. This is what it looks like. [Picture included in the book]. It is a planet. Love Will Galmot. I'm 7 years old.

and

My name is John Glidden. I am six years old and my favourite planet is Pluto. I disagree with you that Pluto is a Kuiper Belt Object. I think Pluto is a real planet and I took a poll of 11 people...

My particular favourite letter comes from Siddiq Canty, at the end of the book, but I shall let you have the joy of discovering that for yourself.

As you can see, this is a lighthearted look at Pluto's rise and fall. The letters, cartoons and song lyrics are interspersed with a particularly informative primer on Pluto specifically, and the solar system in general. As popular science goes, it's equal parts popular and science. It's eminently readable and particularly enjoyable. The casual reader will learn more about Pluto than they ever knew before, and because Tyson is such a good (and fun) teacher, it'll spark their interest and they'll remember it. For a UK audience, think the book equivalent of TV presenters Johnny Ball or Adam Hart-Davis.

My one small criticism of The Pluto Files is that there's a little too much pasting of what other people said towards the end. I'd have loved to read more of Tyson reporting on it, rather than just repeating it. It certainly doesn't spoil the enjoyment or understanding of the book, but it leaves the reader feeling that it's less substantial than it actually is. That small quibble aside, The Pluto Files is heartily recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in science.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

Science is also made fun in How To Fossilise Your Hamster by Mick O'Hare. For another great read about astronomy, check out The Georgian Star by Michael D Lemonick.

Buy The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favourite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favourite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favourite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favourite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson at Amazon.com.


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