How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
Digital Audiobook narrated by Ryan Gesell
Published by Spiegel & Grau on December 7th 2010
Genres: Astronomy, Autobiography, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Science, Space
Length: 267 pages or 7 hours, 48 minutes
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The solar system most of us grew up with included nine planets, with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto at the outer edge. Then, in 2005, astronomer Mike Brown made the discovery of a lifetime: a tenth planet, Eris, slightly bigger than Pluto. But instead of its resulting in one more planet being added to our solar system, Brown’s find ignited a firestorm of controversy that riled the usually sedate world of astronomy and launched him into the public eye. The debate culminated in the demotion of Pluto from real planet to the newly coined category of “dwarf” planet. Suddenly Brown was receiving hate mail from schoolchildren and being bombarded by TV reporters—all because of the discovery he had spent years searching for and a lifetime dreaming about.
Filled with both humor and drama, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is Mike Brown’s engaging first-person account of the most tumultuous year in modern astronomy—which he inadvertently caused. As it guides readers through important scientific concepts and inspires us to think more deeply about our place in the cosmos, it is also an entertaining and enlightening personal story: While Brown sought to expand our understanding of the vast nature of space, his own life was changed in the most immediate, human ways by love, birth, and death. A heartfelt and personal perspective on the demotion of everyone’s favorite farflung planet, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is the book for anyone, young or old, who has ever dreamed of exploring the universe—and who among us hasn’t?
I don’t usually go looking for memoirs. And I definitely don’t seek out science books. For as fascinated as I am by science fiction, reading actual scientific fact usually bores me. I want adventure! I want the high seas and forbidden magic! Something! The fact that How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming landed on my TBR at all was uncanny – the fact that it survived four years on my TBR without being cut is a miracle.
I’m really glad it did, because I found this book informative and fascinating.
In short, this is the story of Mike Brown and his journey to discover Eris (the “tenth planet”) which eventually led to the demotion of Pluto. He explains the procedure behind using telescopes and searching for “wanderers” in the sky with enough to detail to enlighten the uneducated reader (me) but not so much that it’s tedious. Mix in the story of his marriage and first child, and this was an easy read.
It’s also a bit embarrassing, but I learned way more about astronomy from this book than I did from my high school and college science classes.
This book was added to my TBR because I like Pluto. It was a good planet. There was a Disney dog involved. It was sad and far away and needed loving. After listening to this book, I’m no longer bitter about the demotion, not even nostalgic… not really. Brown presents his case pretty well here, and he makes it interesting. There’s even a little bit of drama with a stolen discovery to add a dramatic twist. How many memoirs actually have a nemesis? It was great.
If you’re interested in astronomy at all, Brown describes the tangled conundrum that is the definition of “planet.” the various bodies in our solar system, and even the process of naming a planet (there are rules!). It was all laid out in an interesting way, and doubly good as the narrator did a particularly excellent job making the reading engaging. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone still sore about Pluto, interested in astronomy, or just curious for a great real life tale involving planets and toddlers.
Also, just a thought, this would make a decent movie. Tom Hanks could play Mike Brown.