“ The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries. ”
With these lines, we hop on Sagan’s ‘ship of imagination’ to visit distant worlds of Quasars, Pulsars, Black holes and Galaxies that are billions of light years away from us. A peak into the Cosmos.
Sagan is a poet-scientist, he uses beautiful metaphors and aphorisms that are never too far from what an ordinary person can grasp. The style is lucid. The knowledge ranges from Mathematics to history, from ancient Greece to NASA. Building on the works of geniuses who introduced us to this fascinating, mind boggling universe of ours.
After giving us a general idea of our ‘cosmic address’, Sagan moves on to Darwin and his discovery of Natural Selection as the engine of Evolution. This has to be one of the finest explanations of Darwinian Natural Selection, where Sagan uses the extra-ordinary example Heike crabs, to demonstrate the strange but beautiful ways in which ‘survival of the fittest’ is manifested. But he doesn’t keep us here for long. After giving the best possible ‘lecture’ on Evolution, he takes us further to see the harmony of the worlds. the planets and how the stars follow fixed patterns that can be mathematically explained; a most singular achievement of humans to have discovered the language of the Nature. Kepler gave us the laws of planetary motion. Laws that not just explained the elliptical orbit of Earth, but inspired a generation of mathematicians and physicists to inquire further into the nature and behaviour of the heavenly bodies.
A world so strange, complex and inaccessible has been made fascinating, understandable and rather accessible by the works of men and women who devoted their lives to Science and Cosmos. A world that is far more rich and awe-inspiring than the meagre and myth-ridden fairytales that we content ourselves with. We settle for too little.
As the book progresses, Sagan’s obsession with extra-terrestrial life becomes more and more apparent. He admits that as a child, he spent hours contemplating about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. Although our search for intelligent life has been a failure (even on Earth), Sagan aspires to make contact with the dwellers of distant worlds. The possibility of life elsewhere, is not too ‘fantastic’ altogether. As we observe the immensity of the observable universe, we can be more than certain that life does exist elsewhere but we don’t know what it will be like. Space travel and Alien Contact are not stuff of science fiction anymore but a possibility in waiting.
The concluding chapters touch on two matters of colossal significance, namely Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change. These two man-made disasters are a ticking time bomb that can obliterate our species, and we have done precious little to stop them. We are destroying this planet, poisoning our oceans and destroying Specie after specie for centuries now. Man is without a doubt the most deadly predator in the history of Earth Life. And now we are on the path to self-annihilation.
And this book is a wakeup call. A world ridden with ignorance and greed, will need to forego the idiotic bliss of being certain about everything. We don’t need good answers to everything, what we need instead are good questions. A good question is often times more educating than its answer. How can we love this world if we are awaiting an apocalypse, how can we love our environment and its safe keepers, the plants and the animals, without recognising that they are our distant cousins. Life, wherever it exists on this planet, is our kin. And we are bullying, butchering and asphyxiating it everywhere. What a shame !
This is the kind of book that we must read and re-read. A book we must gift our children on their 12th birthdays. If you haven’t read it yet and you are over 12, do your self a favour and read it.
Because Carl Sagan does more than just educate you about the wonders of Science and the Universe; he makes you fall in love with it.