How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming by Mike Brown
I will admit I was saddened when I found out that Pluto had been demoted as a planet and I did not really know much about the whys of the decision, that’s what interested me in the book. I am also a science lover but definitely not an Astronomy buff. This book was great. It was enlightening about how modern Astronomy research is done and I don’t feel so sad about Pluto anymore. In fact I wish schools would teach planetary Science properly then a lot of the controversy surrounding Pluto would be diminished. The story is mostly a memoir of how the research was done to find other bodies in the Kuiper Belt area of the universe and how Pluto is just one of many thousands of objects in that region of space. It is a fascinating tale of scientific research, scientific intrigue, explanations about astronomy and the true meaning of the word “planet”, along with the back story to the whole Pluto problem. Nice background info about historical aspects of Astronomy and I really loved the personal parts the author added in about meeting his wife and the wonderful parts about his daughter. It made the determined scientist a real person, and a very likeable one at that. I listened to the Audible audio version of the book and I want to give kudos to the narrator, too, who did a fantastic job.
I like science, sci-fi, history, and biographies. Audible has made my long commutes so much less boring!
Alternate title: Planetary Science and Fatherhood.
This book had a good mix of interesting astronomy and real life of the author mixed in. Enjoyable book. The astronomy in the book was not too complex that it was hard to understand for non-scientist type folks.
I heard about this book from the Bad Astronomy column at Discover Magazine's website. I am interested in astronomy and space, but I don't come from a physics background (I am a nursing student). The good thing is you don't need to have a background in physics or astronomy to enjoy this book.
The best books about science are written by scientists who still love their subject as much as an excited elementary school student first encountering the material for the first time. It never gets "old." Brown clearly enjoys thinking very deeply about the edges of our solar system and he communicates this sense of wonder at nature very well.
Mike Brown explains three things very well in this book:
1. How he went about finding planets in the Kuiper Belt. One thing I did not consider is that writing the computer code to analyze your data is just as time consuming as taking the pictures in the first place.
2. The controversy surrounding a planet that Mike Brown discovered, but was announced as discovered by a Spanish astronomer before Brown had enough time to write a scientific paper about it.
3. How the International Astronomical Union came to the decision to demote Pluto as a dwarf planet, and subsequently all of the other planets that Brown had discovered. Brown spends a lot of time clearly explaining why he thinks this is the most accurate way to describe the solar system.
Brown spends a lot of time talking about his family, particularly his daughter Lilah. I have young daughter around the same age as Brown's daughter, so I could relate to how he felt like part of his story could be best explained by his feelings surrounding her first few months of life. Being a parent of a young child really does consume most of your time. For non-parents though, I could see how these sections could be tedious.
I listened to the book in about four or five days. If Mike Brown wrote another one, I would listen to that one too.
Mike Brown loves the universe. He is also obsessive, modest to a fault, smart and has a wickedly dry sense of humor. This book grabbed me by my imagination and my heart and mind followed. Brown wove his personal story with the astronomical story giving it more resonance (I love the idea of naming a celestial body after one’s wife or daughter). What I really enjoyed were the machinations of the academic community and the side-story of the Spanish astronomer who “stole” his discovery. I know the academic world is as cut-throat, backstabbing and gossipy as Hollywood but it’s fun to hear juicy details: the glacial pace of the astronomical committees, the apparent lack of common sense in developing standards, and the rush to publish. The book is entertaining and enlightening (Who knew what a center of mass is? I do now.) As for Pluto, well “What's in a name? That which we call a planet by any other name would spin as sweet.
This is an utterly delightful book. Written with good humour and an unexpectedly deft, light touch (for a work about science) it's just fun. The author packs so much into a deceptively simple and short work. Don't be misled by the whimsical nature of the title. While giving the reader an inside view of what scientific research is all about, it also provides an overview of how professional jealousies can impede (or undermine) science, and gives an important lesson about the need for scientific integrity. I wasn't expecting so much about the author's personal life (it's not overdone) but it makes science seem much more human (and so much less remote and mechanical). And to top it off the narrator is so good that I fear that if I ever met Brown himself, I'd be disappointed.
Like a few other readers, I though his inclusion of his parenthood experiences could have been easily cut in half and we still would have gotten the parallels. Otherwise, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I know next to nothing about astronomy so I really enjoyed learning not only about the discovery but even about the more mundane things like how telescopes are scheduled. It was a fascinating read and I appreciated having astronomy explained "at my level".
I downloaded this book thinking it would be fun to learn more about the Pluto controversy, as I only remember snippets of it from news clips. It does cover the period leading to and including Pluto losing its status as a planet. What I thought would be a straight-forward account ended up being a beautiful memoir on research, and to a lesser extent teaching, and to a greater extent balancing these with life. Some people might prefer a "just the facts" approach, but I loved this route. As an artist who teaches, it helped me look at my relationship to my work in a different light.
The author mentions that part of announcing a discovery is to engage the general public, and to make astronomy accessible and tangible to a wider audience. I think Mr. Brown does well in presenting not only the factual information but also the politics, passions, and mystery of his field of research.
Although I am left-handed, I play the piano right-handed.
450 minutes of book that could have been 45 minutes and not lost a thing.
If there's an abridged version, I'd suggest you go with that instead.
I never really cared about astronomy and missed the whole brouhaha concerning Pluto and Xena. This book lift the curtain for me about how life is for an Astronomer. I love the humor and the scientific insight that Brown gives to his field of work and study. I can understand why he was given the Richard Feynman Teaching Award...after listening to this book...I can imagine how good his lectures and class would be.
Mike Brown does a fantastic job of interweaving the story of his search for large astronomical bodies beyond Pluto with his family life. There's suspense (bad guys trying to steal planets), humor (Mike graphing his newborn daughter's eating and sleeping habits), science (explained so a person of average intelligence can understand it), and controversy (Pluto was kicked out of the planetary fraternity with more than a little discussion). I found it fascinating to discover that the number of accepted planets has fluctuated many times.
The only complaints I've seen about the book focus on the fact that it's not just about Pluto, Eris' discovery, and science. Go into your reading of this book with your eyes open. It's also about several large planetoids he's found, which, for me, helps put things in perspective. It includes a little bit of his childhood. He talks about his wife and child. This isn't really Pluto's story. It's Mike Brown's story and how his discoveries and the question "what is a planet?" resulted in Pluto's demotion.
This was an incredibly fun & informative read and listen. After I borrowed the book from the library (December 2010), I not only bought a hardbound copy, I purchased an audiobook version too. The narrator did a great job. I recommend this book to everyone.