2009 Book Review #38: The Pluto Files

My next book is a non fiction one from a “Villain” in the “Is Pluto a planet” debate.

Neil Degrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. (he serves as director). He’s a columnist for Natural History magazine, and already has a book of essays, Death by Black Hole, to his credit.
To lovers of the planet Pluto, however, he is a villain.
Although it took a NY Times columnist a year to bring the change to light, the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, under Tyson, kept Pluto out of the display of the main sequence of planets, putting it with the Kuiper belt objects instead. In effect, Pluto had been “demoted”.
Once that article came out, however, the howls rose, and the IAU took up the question in full…
In The Pluto Files, Tyson tells the full story of Pluto, and his part in its rise and fall.
Tyson is not a self-aggrandizer, but he does have a central role in the drama and he fully documents his part in Pluto’s story in the book. Along the way, he tells the story of Pluto’s discovery, its debate among the IAU, and the ultimate designation given by the IAU. Plenty of digressions tie in the field of astronomy and astronomers, popular culture (including a certain Mouse’s dog) and more.
I’ve previously read Tyson’s work in Death by Black Hole, and he keeps that easy, accessible style for his work here. He may not have the skill of the late Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan just yet, but those who only have a little science education should not be intimidated or put off by the subject.
I, myself, learned a lot of what happened “behind the scenes” in the debate on Pluto, and found the book educational as well as a pleasure to read. The book is relatively short for the price, which is about the only major thing I can say against the book.

One thought on “2009 Book Review #38: The Pluto Files”

  1. This Just In….
    The American Museum of Natural History has just unveiled a new Periodic table of elements. In this, element 94 is now designated as Tysonium. it is also the first of what is now called “Tysonoids”
    Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson could not be reached for comment at this time but hopes this isn’t the start of a new controversy.

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