Book Review: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming – Mike Brown

Title: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
Author: Mike Brown
ISBN: 9780385531085
Pages: 288
Release Date: December 7, 2010
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Non-Fiction, Space
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

In this book about the demise of the planet Pluto, Mike Brown details the events that led up to the planet’s demotion.  He chronicles his search for Kuiper Belt objects larger than Pluto and his discovery of the tenth planet, Planet X.

Review:

When people have to name one person who is associated with the demotion of Pluto from planet status, they will probably point to Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of The Pluto Files and director of the Haydn Planetarium in New York City.   But it’s actually Mike Brown they should be thinking of; after all, Brown made the discovery that set off the discussion about Pluto’s status.  Mike Brown was the one who discovered an object bigger than Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, a region beyond Neptune which, like the asteroid belt, contains small objects.  His discovery is what ultimately killed Pluto, and in this book, Brown talks about the discoveries and makes a convincing case for why Pluto had it coming.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is an insightful and appealing read.  Brown strips much of the romance from the profession of astronomer; he demonstrates to the reader that it’s not just looking through telescopes at beautiful objects in the night sky.  In order to find the tenth planet, Brown wrote his own computer code to analyze pictures he had the telescope take.  He had to be willing to leave his family on Thanksgiving, if that was the only available telescope time.  He talks about the frustration of clouds and light pollution on viewing nights.  He details long hours of combing and searching pictures, not even sure if what he was looking for existed.  And to top it all off, once Brown did finally find something, he and his team had to keep things quiet while they ensured that it was what they thought it was.   All in all, the life of an astronomer is not a glamorous one, but in the end, I don’t think Brown would have ever said he would have been happier doing something else.

The writing in How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had It Coming is really engaging.  I will be honest, I had my doubts going in; after all, it was written by a scientist, someone who isn’t necessarily accustomed to writing for a layperson.  But Brown is funny and self-deprecating; he injects the narrative with warmth and his enthusiasm is infectious.  He explains everything clearly and concisely but never condescends to the reader.  Additionally, the story is never dry.  It’s always interesting and keeps the reader’s attention from beginning to end.  It’s a real example for those in academia trying to write for a lay audience; I can’t sing its praises highly enough.

Brown makes an excellent case for why Pluto shouldn’t be, nor should it ever have been, a planet.  When it was discovered, no one quite knew what it was, so it was called a planet for lack of a better word.  Now that we know there are other Pluto-like objects out there, it doesn’t belong with the rest of the planets in the solar system.  I thought Brown had a very well thought out argument, but I’ll admit he didn’t need to convince me.  I agreed that Pluto needed to die (and it had it coming) before I ever picked up the book.

If you’re looking for a fun and interesting non-fiction book, look no further.  It’s an incredibly quick read; you’ll be surprised at how fast it goes, considering it’s non-fiction.  You will also marvel at the fact that you are hooked on the narrative, unable to put it down, even though you know most of what’s coming.  Brown is a talented writer, and I certainly hope he writes more books aimed at the reading public because I will gladly read anything he writes from now on!

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Comments

  1. He is one smart dude. And one that can write well? Not entirely common. I am always intrigued with your space books that you read…you find the best ones!

  2. He is one smart dude. And one that can write well? Not entirely common. I am always intrigued with your space books that you read…you find the best ones!

  3. From the description of this book, it sounds like it would be very dry, yet you say it is not so, which gives me pause. I might have to check this one out, and I know that it would definitely be a book that my husband and son would love. Thanks for the excellent review. I am off to see if I can grab a copy!

  4. From the description of this book, it sounds like it would be very dry, yet you say it is not so, which gives me pause. I might have to check this one out, and I know that it would definitely be a book that my husband and son would love. Thanks for the excellent review. I am off to see if I can grab a copy!

  5. Oooh, sounds like a fun book! I’m fascinated by the solar system, though I know so little about it. My boyfriend’s roommate is an astronomer — I’m thinking Christmas gift?

  6. Oooh, sounds like a fun book! I’m fascinated by the solar system, though I know so little about it. My boyfriend’s roommate is an astronomer — I’m thinking Christmas gift?

  7. Do you think a non-space junkie would enjoy this one too?

  8. Do you think a non-space junkie would enjoy this one too?

  9. @bermudaonion Yes! I do! The demotion of Pluto (and Pluto in general) was such a pop culture, mainstream thing, I definitely think a layperson would enjoy it. It’s accessible and really lays out the reasons Pluto is no longer a planet.

  10. @bermudaonion Yes! I do! The demotion of Pluto (and Pluto in general) was such a pop culture, mainstream thing, I definitely think a layperson would enjoy it. It’s accessible and really lays out the reasons Pluto is no longer a planet.

  11. My husband would love this!

  12. My husband would love this!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I wish someone had told me astronomy involved more than looking at planets before I decided to take it as an “easy” science course in college!

  14. I wish someone had told me astronomy involved more than looking at planets before I decided to take it as an “easy” science course in college!

  15. Pluto is not dead; Mike Brown tried but failed to “kill” it. The IAU demotion was done by only four percent of its members, most of whom are not planetary scientists. It was opposed by hundreds of planetary scientists in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Even Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson admits the debate is ongoing. I encourage people to learn both sides of the issue. Some good pro-Pluto as a planet books are “Is Pluto A Planet?” by Dr. David Weintraub, “The Case for Pluto” by Alan Boyle, and my own book, hopefully out next year, “The Little Planet that Would Not Die: Pluto’s Story.”

  16. Pluto is not dead; Mike Brown tried but failed to “kill” it. The IAU demotion was done by only four percent of its members, most of whom are not planetary scientists. It was opposed by hundreds of planetary scientists in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Even Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson admits the debate is ongoing. I encourage people to learn both sides of the issue. Some good pro-Pluto as a planet books are “Is Pluto A Planet?” by Dr. David Weintraub, “The Case for Pluto” by Alan Boyle, and my own book, hopefully out next year, “The Little Planet that Would Not Die: Pluto’s Story.”

  17. This sounds really neat … the kind of book you would think you wouldn’t want to read but surprises you. I love the title, and astronomy isn’t a field I know anything about. This is on my radar now .. thanks.

  18. This sounds really neat … the kind of book you would think you wouldn’t want to read but surprises you. I love the title, and astronomy isn’t a field I know anything about. This is on my radar now .. thanks.

  19. The title alone would make me like this one, even if you hadn’t given it a stellar review. Adding it to my list!

    Wendy

  20. The title alone would make me like this one, even if you hadn’t given it a stellar review. Adding it to my list!

    Wendy

  21. I will definitely get hold of this book 😀

  22. I will definitely get hold of this book 😀

  23. The title had me, too — and I love learning about planets, non-planets, etc 🙂 Sounds so interesting!

  24. The title had me, too — and I love learning about planets, non-planets, etc 🙂 Sounds so interesting!

Trackbacks

  1. […] video somebody posted the link to : Youtube video This review by S.Krishna made me pick the book: Review I watched this video by Nova long back, before reading the book. It is a great video:  The Pluto […]

  2. […] video somebody posted the link to : Youtube video This review by S.Krishna made me pick the book: Review I watched this video by Nova long back, before reading the book. It is a great video:  The Pluto […]

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