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5.0 out of 5 starsIncredibly concise narrative sets up the case for space exploration
Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2020
The past is prelude. Some have critiqued this effort to describe 10,000 years of human exploration as superficial but to write so concisely and keep it engaging requires incredible skill. Depending on if you are historical novice or the subject matter expert it's either an accessible overview or handy refresher. The broad approach also allows the accomplishments of less recounted civilizations to assume their appropriate place among the familiar stories in the march of history. But the history itself is not the point, rather it provides the context in which the factors that drive human exploration can be examined. With the benefit of this perspective, fresh impetus can be given to the argument for progress in the human expansion into space - and when he's not writing books, Mr. Rader is working to take us there. Bravo on both counts.
Reviewed in the United States on December 24, 2019
This book is a cliff notes for 2000 years of exploration, so if you are well read on this topic you can skip it. The author jam packs it all in and uses very clever fun facts to keep things moving along. On the flip side, if you are not well read on man’s historical drive to explore this is an amusing beach read. Too shallow for me.
The author, Dr. Andrew Rader, takes the reader through several thousand years of man's innate desire to explore the unknown, and shows a consistent pattern not of spontaneous brilliance, but diligence through failure and determination. We don't always get it right, but if we continue to try, we definitely get better at it.
2.0 out of 5 starsReadable, yet superficial and uncritical history and future of exploration.
Reviewed in the United States on November 25, 2019
I really wanted to like this book. I've been interested in the subjects covered for decades, so I didn't hesitate to order the book. The book is also enthousiastically written, and the writing has an appropriate tone and nice pace, making it enjoyable to read. Contentwise, though, I had two very major disappointments with the book:
1. For a book about exploration, it doesn't explore the subject very deeply. While Rader comes close to lots of interesting issues, trends and effects, he doesn't really discuss them. He often just mentions an issue and then moves on. For example, in one of the space chapters, Rader points out that much exploration was directly or indirectly state funded, and that the appearance of private space exploration companies may be a break with that trend. This is a very interesting observation, but there's no further discussion. Why weren't there lots of commercial explorers before? Why are there now? What would be benefits, what would be downsides?
The author obviously juxtaposes space exploration with earlier travellers, but what about the differences? For one, Ibn Battuta could just pack his bags and travel to a foreign land, but I cannot just take my rocket and fly up to Mars. What could this tell about space exploration? The book is silent.
When reading through the long history of exploration, many patterns emerge for the reader. Deaths of explorers, for example, or published travel journals/tales, or the nature of the people becoming explorers. Some qualitative discussion of this would have been great, or perhaps even a philosophical debate ("is exploration good or bad?") but the book doesn't offer anything.
2. Rader's fits the stereotype of an explorer: he's optimistic, sees opportunities, and doesn't spend a lot of time on criticism. But good history or science books (and this is both) should do better in my opinion.
This optimism takes many forms. Sometimes it's relatively minor, such as assuming an explorer visited a certain place even if that's not supported by evidence. Or picking the source that best fits the narrative, rather than looking at alternative explanations.
It becomes much more jarring in the last part of the book. As a Space X employee, Rader is obviously a fan of space travel. That's not a problem in itself, but it's not counterbalanced at all. For example, there's discussion of terraforming Mars, but no risks are discussed at all, which is a glaring omission given how poor a job we're currently doing keeping our own planet livable. In the chapter on the Spanish gold and silver extraction from the Americas, the economic impact is very briefly mentioned (as usual), but it's completely absent in the space chapters, despite the fact that, per Rader, mining a comet might yield more than the GNP of the earth.
5.0 out of 5 starsIt's been a long road getting from there to here...
Reviewed in the United States on November 12, 2019
Beyond the Known was a book I requested on NetGalley because it had the promise of space talk in the title. I love space, astronomy, NASA, and anything dealing with the cosmos. I also love history, so much to my delight, this book covers everything on this list, and more.
The book details human exploration through time up until now. I was pleased to discover that it not only covered Western expansion and exploration, but Eastern expansion and exploration as well. There’s a lot of interesting facts thrown in there as well, such as Vikings not getting scurvy by accidental well-balanced diets. That’s not the kind of facts you get taught in school.
Rader then takes us into the speculative future where robots could potentially seek out new worlds, the ability of having spaceships capable of reaching even our closest stars, and where we could have colonies on the Moon and Mars. He also delves into why, after all this time, is space exploration needed.
“Breakthroughs don’t come along if we just sit around waiting for them.”
Pushing ourselves to explore the unknown has always been a hallmark of humanity. While there are still things to be known about Earth, we can’t help but look up at the stars and think “I wonder what’s out there?” It’s something that will take time, money, and many failures. However, we cannot let failures stop us. Failures teach us something important too. Rader emphasizes the importance of continuing to explore the unknown just for these reasons.
This was a fantastic read. It was very approachable and like having a conversation directly with the author. I’m also glad that there were references in the back so that I can learn more on some of the topics mentioned. I strongly suggest this if you’re a history buff or a science/space buff. Let’s put it this way: if you love the Star Trek: Enterprise title credits, you’ll love this book.
Big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book as an eARC.