Cosmos (book)

Cosmos (book)

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Cosmos is a popular science
Popular science
Popular science, sometimes called literature of science, is interpretation of science intended for a general audience. While science journalism focuses on recent scientific developments, popular science is broad-ranging, often written by scientists as well as journalists, and is presented in many...

 book by astronomer
Astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

 and Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

-winning author Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

. Its 13 illustrated chapters, corresponding to the 13 episodes of the Cosmos TV series
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as presenter. It was executive-produced by Adrian Malone, produced by David Kennard, Geoffrey Haines-Stiles and Gregory Andorfer, and directed by the producers, David...

 on which the book was based, explore the mutual development of science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 and civilization
Civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

. Spurred in part by the popularity of the TV series, Cosmos spent 50 weeks on the Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly, aka PW, is an American weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents...

 best-sellers list and 70 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list
New York Times Best Seller list
The New York Times Best Seller list is widely considered the preeminent list of best-selling books in the United States. It is published weekly in The New York Times Book Review magazine, which is published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and as a stand-alone publication...

 to become the best-selling science book ever published at the time. In 1981, it received the Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book. The book's unprecedented success ushered in a dramatic increase in visibility for science-themed literature. The sequel to Cosmos is Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994).

Summary


Cosmos has 13 heavily illustrated chapters, corresponding to the 13 episodes of the Cosmos television series
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as presenter. It was executive-produced by Adrian Malone, produced by David Kennard, Geoffrey Haines-Stiles and Gregory Andorfer, and directed by the producers, David...

. In the book, Sagan explores 15 billion years of cosmic evolution and the development of science and civilization. Cosmos traces the origins of knowledge and the scientific method, mixing science and philosophy, and speculates to the future of science. The book also discusses the underlying premises of science by providing biographical anecdotes about many prominent scientists throughout history, placing their contributions into the broader context of the development of modern science. Cornell News Service characterized the book as "an overview of how science and civilization grew up together."

The book covers a broad range of topics, comprising Sagan's reflections on anthropological, cosmological, biological, historical, and astronomical matters from antiquity to contemporary times. Sagan reiterates his position on extraterrestrial life—that the magnitude of the universe permits the existence of thousands of alien civilizations, but no credible evidence exists to demonstrate that such life has ever visited earth.

Style


Cosmos utilizes a light, conversational tone to render complex scientific topics readable for a lay audience. On many topics, the book encompasses a more concise, refined presentation of previous ideas about which Sagan had written. One critic characterized the book as containing religious rhetoric in its descriptions of science and the universe.

Critical reception


In The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review is a weekly paper-magazine supplement to The New York Times in which current non-fiction and fiction books are reviewed. It is one of the most influential and widely read book review publications in the industry. The offices are located near Times Square in New York...

, novelist James Michener praised Cosmos as "a cleverly written, imaginatively illustrated summary of [Sagan's]... ruminations about our universe... His style is iridescent, with lights flashing upon unexpected juxtapositions of thought." David Whitehouse of the British Broadcasting Corporation proclaimed "there is not a book on astronomy – in fact not one on science – that comes close to the eloquence and intellectual sweep of Cosmos... If we send just one book to grace the libraries of distant worlds..., let it be Cosmos." Kirkus Reviews
Kirkus Reviews
Kirkus Reviews is an American book review magazine founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus . Kirkus serves the book and literary trade sector, including libraries, publishers, literary and film agents, film and TV producers and booksellers. Kirkus Reviews is published on the first and 15th of each month...

described the book as "Sagan at his best."
In 1981, Cosmos received the Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book.

Legacy


Cosmos became the best-selling science book ever published in the English language. It was only surpassed in the late 1980s by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...

's Brief History of Time. Though spurred in part by the popularity of the television series, Cosmos became a best-seller by itself. Cosmos spent 50 weeks on the Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly, aka PW, is an American weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents...

 best-seller's list, where it became the first science book to sell more than half a million copies. The book also spent 70 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list
New York Times Best Seller list
The New York Times Best Seller list is widely considered the preeminent list of best-selling books in the United States. It is published weekly in The New York Times Book Review magazine, which is published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and as a stand-alone publication...

. Cosmos sold more than 900,000 copies while on the best sellers list and continued to sell well for years later, selling around five million copies internationally. Shortly after Cosmos was published, Sagan received a $2 million advance for the novel Contact
Contact (novel)
Contact is a science fiction novel written by Carl Sagan and published in 1985. It deals with the theme of contact between humanity and a more technologically advanced, extraterrestrial life form. It ranked No. 7 on the 1985 U.S. bestseller list....

. This was the largest release given for an unwritten fiction book at the time. The success of Cosmos made Sagan "wealthy as well as famous." It also ushered in a dramatic increase in visibility for science books. Science historian Bruce Lewenstein of Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

 noted that among science books "Cosmos marked the moment that something different was clearly going on."

Lewenstein also noted the power of the book as a recruitment tool. Along with Microbe Hunters and The Double Helix
The Double Helix
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA is an autobiographical account of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA written by James D. Watson and published in 1968. It was and remains a controversial account...

, he described Cosmos as one of the "books that people cite as 'Hey, the reason I'm a scientist is because I read that book'." Particularly in astronomy and physics, he said, the book inspired many people to become scientists.