The Pluto Files – Neil deGrasse Tyson [TSS]

Title: The Pluto Files
Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
ISBN: 0393065200
Pages: 224
Release Date: January 26, 2009
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the dust jacket:

In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of planethood. Far from the sun, tiny, and eccentric in orbit, it’s a wonder Pluto has any fans. Yet during the mounting debate over Pluto’s status, Americans rallied behind the extraterrestrial underdog. The year of Pluto’s discovery, Disney created an irresistible pup by the same name, and, as one NASA scientist put it, Pluto was “discovered by an American for America.” Pluto is entrenched in our cultural, patriotic view of the cosmos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is on a quest to discover why.

Only Tyson can tell this story: he was involved in the first exhibits to demote Pluto, and, consequently, Pluto lovers have freely shared their opinions with him, including endless hate mail from third graders. In his typically witty way, Tyson explores the history of planet classification and America’s obsession with the “planet” that’s recently been judged a dwarf.

I have a confession: I have a small crush on Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s ridiculously smart and has a great sense of humor – who wouldn’t want to hang out with a guy who has embraced his inner nerd-ness enough to wear this vest?

In The Pluto Files, Neil (I have decided we are on first-name basis) takes us through the short and sad history of Pluto, seemingly everyone’s favorite planet (mine is actually Jupiter, but who’s counting?) He chronicles Pluto’s discovery and centers on the fact that it was the only planet discovered by an American. This became a prime reason there was so much resistance in this country to its demotion from “planet” status.

This book is really funny. Neil obviously has a great sense of humor and he never takes himself too seriously throughout the course of the book. He reproduces angry letters from seven-year-olds that he received during the Pluto debates and comments on the fierce affection people felt for our strange and awkward cousin of a 9th planet.

I recently reviewed Neil’s book Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries [review] and absolutely loved it (of course). The Pluto Files is much less science-y; instead it focuses on the pop culture of the planet Pluto and the hilarity that ensued once he “demoted” Pluto. Of course there is some science in it – Neil makes his case very strongly as to why Pluto doesn’t fit in with the rest of the planets. But it’s incredibly easy to read, enjoyable, and doesn’t take nearly as much brain power as you’d think.

The Pluto Files is also a gorgeous book. It is full of illustrations and pictures to enhance the reading experience (my favorite are the captions, in which Tyson often pokes fun at himself). It’s also relatively short, which makes it that much easier to read.

I highly recommend The Pluto Files to anyone and everyone, especially if you are trying to read more non-fiction. It’s a great and fun read, and you can’t go wrong with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Seriously. LOVE him.


  1. Great review. You are so funny, though. My favorite planet is Earth.

  2. great review. I’m a Pluto lover myself. Look forward to reading it.

  3. I love watching Neil on The Daily Show, but I have yet to read any of his books. I will definitely be on the lookout for this one, though! šŸ™‚

  4. To the wishlist it goes, though I was crushed at the demotion of Pluto! šŸ™‚

  5. But Pluto does fit in with the rest of the planets, and its story is not sad; it is ongoing. Tyson is wrong in presenting this as a done deal. Even now, there are efforts in place by scientists and lay people to overturn the controversial IAU demotion, which Tyson himself describes as “flawed.” Many astronomers do still view Pluto as a planet–and not a large comet, as Tyson states–because it is in a state of hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning it is large enough for its own self gravity to have pulled itself into a round shape. This is a hallmark of planets and is not the case with shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. It is why Pluto is significantly different from most other objects in the Kuiper Belt. To all who believe the demotion is wrong, don’t be crushed or sad: join efforts to overturn it by contacting the IAU and asking them to reopen this issue. You can find the contact emails at

  6. I saw him talking about this book on TV and really want to read it. He seems really funny.

  7. Added to my list. Some of my students were heartbroken at Pluto’s demotion.

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