December 15, 2010

Book Review: Billions and Billions

Image: Random House
I have to admit, I originally picked up Billions and Billions because of the title. Seeing it paired with Carl Sagan’s name instantly reminded me of Cosmos and his distinctive way of pronouncing billions. That initial statement and his personal explanation about it provided a wonderful introduction to the book, to what turned out to be an entry into the thoughts and beliefs of Carl Sagan.

What makes Billions and Billions distinctive is that it not only contains Sagan’s views on the cosmos, but other areas and issues about the world as well. Sure, the reader does ultimately learn more about what’s outside our planet through the book, but not without also seeing his views on areas such as climate change and nuclear weapons. Yet, perhaps as only Carl Sagan could, he compares these comparatively small issues with their importance on the grand scale. Never before have I been so deeply motivated to make more progress against climate change than after reading Sagan eloquently explain how we are gradually destroying life on the only place we know to harbor it in the universe.

The last parts of the book were especially moving. As someone viewing his writings from more than a decade past his death, it was somewhat painful to see how many future developments in science and technology he yearned to see, of which, some have since come to fruition, all the while remaining optimistic about humanity. Afterwards, I realized optimism was the one thing binding the book, and its myriad of topics, together. While discussing how humanity will face the problems of climate change or nuclear weapons, he never wavered from his optimism, continuously believing that we possess the necessary will and skill to tackle these future problems.

Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium is a wonderful book for anyone wishing to read thoughtful essays on current issues from a great scientist and astronomer, or even just wishing to learn more about Carl Sagan himself. This book is available at many online bookstores, including Amazon and Random House.

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