Review : Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Cosmos is the most poignant book I have read recently.I picked up this one because of Bill Bryson’s A short history of nearly everything.  It took more than two months for me to finish off this and still I do not have the guts to say that I understood all of the content in the book. Nothing can beat the power of imagination of mind; Even then when Carl Sagan published the book in 1980, it would have challenged the greatest of great minds to imagine the vast universe he presented in this book. After reading the book I am amazed at the possibility of me sitting here and typing these words. If you consider the odds mentioned in the book, it is still a miracle. Apart from presenting the stupefying raw version of the universe, the books elicit certain philosophical questions as well.

Religion and Gods (as we know them) are mostly less than 5000 years old. In a 14Billion-year-old universe, how insignificant they are! Do we really have these many gods around to listen to all our insignificant prayers for money and all other material things? If I knocked down the ever present atheist inside my head, Maybe I can reassure myself that The omnipresent god, who made the universe might not be anything like we have imagined them. Why do we even think that he(she?) will be in human form, which happened because of many inadvertent mutations during evolution cycle in the recent billion years? When you consider the bigger picture, many things we fight on the basis of Religion seems really petty to me. The other alternative to find the answers to all the unknown is Science. But painfully I realized science is not as powerful as I believed. We have many breakthrough inventions and many more is in the pipeline, but to find out more about the whole universe it may take thousands of years. And what we believe to be true today, may not be the case 100 years late. So it turns out science is still a budding tool to dig the secrets of the cosmos, alas the only tool we have right now.

The concept of the universe is described in the book in a very clear and plain language. You do not have to be a physicist to understand the whole thing. For a novice like me, the concept of the fourth dimension was so hard to imagine that I had to return the library book Stephan Hawking’s The theory of everything without even reaching twenty pages. In cosmos, the concept spacetime is so clearly defined that now I would dare to read Stephan hawking once more. I always wondered how something like Time can be considered as a dimension. For me time was constant everywhere. Carl Sagan gave me another viewpoint from supergalactic levels and it is an eye opener. If I had read this book, when I was in school, maybe I would have aspired to be an astrophysicist. Now I understand why it is a popular book. Anyone who likes to look at the stars and dream can easily understand the book.

Another intriguing thing which got my interest while reading this book is the Curious case of Hindu Cosmology. In one of the chapters, Carl Sagan interestingly points out few things where modern science(as of now) agrees with Hindu Cosmology. Just like the Multiverse Riddle, there are many points where we wonder if we strip down the adulterations of our Vedas, will we get a deeper meaning of our universe? Thousands of years ago, without the aid of any modern technology, how do they even get these ideas? Mind is the greatest conqueror and maybe it can reach the places even technology can’t. One thing we can conclude without any hesitation is what we know is only a minuscule percent of what we don’t know. That makes you automatically respect what we have. I would recommend this book any day and it deserves nothing less than a five.


After you read the book, and if your imagination gets stuck, do watch the series – the Cosmos: a spacetime odyssey presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Equally enthralling, the series follows the footsteps of the book and takes you to a visual journey in the universe.

Seen from about 6 billion kilometers, Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space(Ref Wikipedia)

The series quotes the following lines from another Carl Sagan book. Inspired by the pic above, the quote is a must read.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994



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