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"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."
- Anna Quindlen

Review: Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science, by Carl Sagan

Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science - Carl Sagan

This collection of essays is well worth the read, if only because it's by Sagan.  It's not the best book of his I've read, but even mediocre Sagan is better than most science writers today.  His sense of wonder, his love of scientific discovery, his clear insight -- they are infectious and can make any topic fascinating.


Which is a good thing, since some of the subjects here are pretty dry.  One of the longer chapters is a point-by-point debunking of Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision - a "theory" so preposterous it hardly merits acknowledging.  It claims that the planet Venus was spat out by Jupiter 3,500 years ago as a giant comet, inspiring a bunch of myths and Bible stories during its catastrophic fly-by of Earth.  No, I don't think this idea requires 50 pages of patient confutation - this needs one sentence that says "Clearly this is bullshit and Velikovsky was smoking a whole lot of crack."  But Sagan believed he deserved a fair hearing, and who am I to argue?


Another less-than-thrilling essay is a thoroughly tedious retrospective on the first 75 years of the American Astronomical Society.  Their publications, their disagreements, their slow march of discovery.  Snooooozefest!


But really, those two chapters were the only duds.  Everything else, from Broca and Einstein to science fiction, alien intelligence, and space travel, is all very thought-provoking, if hopelessly dated (I discussed earlier Sagan's fears of global cooling leading to a frozen apocalypse - VERY weird to read these days).  But even when he veers off the rails into bizarre metaphysics (the beginning of time and space, abstractions on the idea of God, the idea that near-death experiences are just repressed birth memories), Sagan is unfailingly interesting.


The Demon-Haunted World will probably always be my favorite and the one I recommend to everybody.  But I've been enjoying reading through some of Sagan's lesser-known books.  I always learn a few things and come away reminded of how endlessly fascinating is our universe.


(2014 #13)