Title: The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference
Author: Alan Boyle
Fun Fact: Pluto is so tilted on its’ axis that sometimes the sun would rise in the south and set in the north for someone standing on Pluto.
Review Summary: More in depth look at the history of Pluto than The Pluto Files, with more personal back stories and smoother plot flow, but still presented in a mostly dry and impersonal way.
The Case for Pluto covers essentially the same material as The Pluto Files but in much greater depth on the personal side and a little more detail on the scientific side. I liked this book better because of that greater depth, but it was still a pretty dry read and had very few funny bits to lighten things up. The author makes two basic arguments for considering Pluto a planet. The scientific argument is that all objects with enough gravity to become round should be planets, because this is a non-arbitrary physical property. And of course the second argument is a sentimental look at Pluto’s historical significance. While the sphere argument is somewhat compelling, it does have the unfortunate problem of creating tons of planets (many asteroids and Kuiper belt objects meet this criteria, as do many moons), making planet a large enough category it’s useless without sub-categories. Although unconvinced by the main point of this book, it was an interesting read and I very much enjoyed the final chapter describing future research directions. I would recommend it to anyone just looking to learn some more facts about Pluto.
Title: How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had It Coming
Author: Mike Brown
Fun Fact: The IAU has ridiculously specific rules for naming astronomical objects. For example, craters on Venus wider than 20km are to be named after famous women while smaller craters are to be given common female names! For more examples, look here.
Review Summary: At last, the really personal viewpoint of someone who was a part of the Pluto debate – and written with a fun, dry sort of humor too!
This book is precisely what I was looking for in a book about Pluto. It contains all the depth of information that The Pluto Files was missing but still had a narrative voice I enjoyed even more than either of the other books. From the story of the narrator’s experiences trying to write papers while becoming a parent (including being so tired he accidentally loaded the laundry machine with cat litter!) to his exasperation with the bickering scientific community, there was no shortage of moments which made me laugh. I also found the author’s argument that Pluto not be considered a planet the most convincing argument so far and I enjoyed following his thought process on the matter as a great example of the scientific process. I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a fun micro-history, to anyone looking to learn about the debate on Pluto, and to anyone wanting to learn about science or astronomy in general. A very enjoyable read.