The author we will talk about today is one you have definitely heard of before. Carl Sagan was a leading scientist of his time and a source of endless inspiration for the general public. Not only was he prominent in multiple fields of astronomy and some other scientific areas, but he also dutied himself with getting everyone -especially younger people- familiar with and involved in these fields.
Makings of a Genius
The scientist was born to a father who was a Russian Empire immigrant from a city located inside today’s Ukrainian borders and her mother was from New York where she gave birth to Sagan in 1934. He would take on the curiosity of his father and the ambition of his mother who wasn’t able to pursue hers because of her circumstances. Sagan also stated that they were Reform Judaists, which also affected him in some ways.
He attended the University of Chicago at the age of 16, which was one of the colleges without strict age requirements. While he was going through the undergraduate program that he would say “nothing”, he joined the university’s astronomy club and worked with a colleague named Harold Urey to write a thesis on the origins of life. He would be awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1954, and he would go on to complete his Ph.D. just six years after that.
Best Carl Sagan Books
|Cosmos||9.92/10||365 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Contact||9.68/10||386 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|The Demon-Haunted World||9.76/10||482 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Pale Blue Dot||9.86/10||386 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|The Dragons of Eden||9.74/10||289 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
What better book is there to start this article with than the first among the most popular Carl Sagan books? This book is so well known that you will sometimes see the scientist being mentioned as “Carl Sagan (author of Cosmos)” in some sources. In other words, this iconic book and the identity of Carl Sagan are almost seen as one.
The book talks about the story of the universe we knew it. It starts off with the universe’s formation and then progressively narrows the perspective down toward human civilization. It asks questions that you could not find the answers to yourself and that you outright did not have the vision to ask. Most importantly, the book does not just do this concerning astronomy but it does so with every essential field of science and philosophy.
What more can I say? Cosmos is just a book so encompassing that I can not decide which part of it to talk about. If there is a book that you can read within a week that will greatly change the way you look at things, it is Cosmos. It is a book written by an exceptional man of thought, sharing his perspective on every relevant matter.
Second on our list, we have one of the best selling and best rated Carl Sagan books. It is a science fiction novel concerned with the notion of creation and its meaning. The story was originally written as a screenplay by Carl Sagan and his soon-to-be wife Ann Druyan but they decided to publish it as a novel after they went through some problems in the filming stage.
We follow the story through the eyes of “Ellie, a very successful and ambitious academic. She is eventually appointed as the director of an extraterrestrial intelligence research center. When what appears to be an encrypted message consisting only of prime numbers reaches the research center, Ellie’s life gets a lot more interesting. From then on, she will be faced with questions about our place in the universe and more so, the very nature of existence.
What Would Happen?
In what is the best and only Carl Sagan novel, the scientist presents us with possible cases of what would happen if our understanding of life, the universe, and god were subject to a complete change. Of course, Carl Sagan is not a novelist so some parts of the story as well as the characters fell a little rough around the edges sometimes but Contact is a novel definitely worth reading as it is written with an understanding far wider than a usual sci-fi writer’s.
In today’s world, positive sciences are seen as a source of near-definitive source of objective information. This was not always the case though, and this piece in our Carl Sagan books ranked list is one that was written with the aim of expressing that science is a credible guide. Not only that, Sagan pleads in the book that no information that was not created with the scientific method is really reliable.
This book is basically a Socratic thought practice on critical thinking. It is made against the common people, and also for the common people. Sagan aims to discredit bodies of logical fallacies instilled inside our cultures so, he criticizes parts of our cultures that set us back as a civilization. Don’t get me wrong, he definitely does not have an aggressive stance against people’s beliefs, but he would absolutely be accused of it if his arguments did not make so much sense.
The last thing I want to talk about is a more philosophical subject Sagan touches and that is: Why do we abandon our critical thinking at our peril? So, not only does it encourage critical thinking it also includes a very needed discussion of our need to believe in things. It is a great introduction to the philosophy of thinking and I think it would be an especially nourishing book for a middle or high schooler to read.
Next up in this article we have one of the top rated Carl Sagan books, Pale Blue Dot. It first gives us a detailed account of what we have been able to accomplish in space, especially the places that we could explore. The scientist then goes on to elaborate on how the future of space exploration could look for us and why this is an important thing that humanity as a whole should focus on.
What Have We Accomplished
As you can probably guess from the name, the scientist also focuses on the scale of humanity compared to the entire universe. He does so not only from a physical perspective but also on the basis of the things that we could accomplish in science and civilization. A small spoiler, he does not really think that we have accomplished anything worth mentioning. This is an acceptable and arguably sensible notion though, given that all we are is a pale blue dot.
Of course, you can’t talk about the future of a species if the species goes extinct. Sagan does not fail to consider this very real possibility. Humans did not really go through a period where their existence was threatened after the transition to a settled life. This changed in the last century or so. We now have many threats born out of ignorance like air pollution, and even more that were born out of hate like nuclear weapons.
The next book I will go over in this Carl Sagan book list is Dragons of Eden. Very much like Pale Blue Dot, it is a series of speculations on the future of humanity and some questions revolving around it. The difference is that while Pale Blue Dot was an outside look to humanity, Dragons of Eden gets very up close and personal with it. It concerns itself with humankind as a species, other lifeforms present on our planet, and last but not least, the concept of intelligence.
I think the passages in the book were the ones concerned with the pre-historical sides of our psyche. As we are a species that has been a part of the ecological pyramid just a few thousand years ago, the way our brain works is still founded upon survival in the wild. As we were not that far up on the food chain until recently, these echoes from our past are usually fears that Sagan labels as dragons in our minds.
Some of the concepts presented in this Pulitzer-winning book have become outdated as time passed and some speculations have lost their meanings as we have found the truths behind some of our then-unanswerable questions. Still, with the concepts it introduces and the attitude it takes on as it dwells on the subjects surrounding our nature, I’d say Dragons of Eden is the best Carl Sagan book that revolves around the human condition.
Billions & Billions is the final book of Carl Sagan that was published in June 1997. The date of its first publication is also related to the book’s content as you can probably guess from the title. More so, the scientist also gets into some of the more personal topics like love and God since he is nearing the end of his brilliant life on this Earth and is reflecting back on the time he spent.
A Final Account
There is not really a central theme that the book revolves around. If I had to, I would probably sum it up as the last account of Carl Sagan’s mind. It is almost as if he wanted to put everything he learned and everything he is yet to find an answer to down on paper. A torch he gives to the younger members of his species for them to carry on. Which makes it the best Carl Sagan book in the interpersonal sense.
The book was a really sad read for me which is weird since Sagan displays near-complete optimism and hope for the future of mankind. I guess I just could not get over the fact that this was it for me and Sagan, there were no more books by him left to read and there never would be. Still, Sagan did everything in his power to inspire us. I guess “writing new books” is up to us now.
The Gifford Lectures are an annual conference on natural theology that is arranged to let the public listen to and learn from the greatest thinkers of the world. In 1985, Carl Sagan received the honor of giving the lectures of the year. He has accepted the offer and given lectures on theology, the relationship between science and religion -as well as God-, and countless other subjects that are all one way or another related to these topics.
The book, which is a collection of the scientist’s lectures from the event was put together and published by Sagan’s wife Ann Druyan on the tenth anniversary of his passing. It also includes an introduction from Ann Druyan herself, a woman who had undeniable contributions to nearly all works of Carl Sagan but also a woman that we did not really hear much from.
The lectures take it upon themselves to wrestle with the biggest questions of our time. Questions regarding our purpose as both an intelligent species and as the general matter that we are made of. What I really like about the book was that since it was taken from lectures, it felt much more intimate. Might even be my personal best Carl Sagan book.
Next up on our Carl Sagan book reviews list we have Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, another book written by the co-authoring of Ann Druyan. It is more or less a historical book but the authors do take more credibility for commenting on the events a little more than the usual historical narratives. They are not afraid to speculate and hypothesize as they are, at heart, scientists.
When I say history, you might have imagined a book about old civilizations but this book is much more than that. It is the history of humankind, it tells the critical turning points through our journey to become the specimens we are today. It also discusses the matter of difference between us and our very closely related primate cousins.
I would bet you five bucks that once you start reading this book, you will forget about everything else until you finish it. The originality and the importance of matters it engulfs make this book one of the most captivating ones that I have ever read. Although the writing can be a little less than decent at some points, this is definitely one of the best books by Carl Sagan.
Broca’s Brain is a book that gets quite an amount of criticism for being disorganized or unrelated in its content. I would say the people who think like that, could not get the point of this book at all. From what I gather, it is an introduction to scientific concepts that the author thought were important enough to induce curiosity for them.
One thing to note about this book would be that it might come off as a little more technical compared to the author’s other work. Still, I think the ability of Sagan to simplify difficult topics makes the vast majority of the book comprehensible for the general audience. The reason behind this is that the book is actually a collection of his previous essays that he had written for journals.
As I read the book, I could almost imagine Sagan sitting right beside me saying “Look, this is important! Think about it! Think about it!” with a big smile on his face. I really liked reading the scientist in this scientific journal frame too. He does not hold back as much as his books on the complexity of the subjects he is handling and it’s refreshing.
The last piece among our best Carl Sagan books is Comet, a scientific as well as a cultural study of comets written in cooperation with Ann Druyan. It talks about the “life” of comets, their physical properties, and their history from the perspective of humans. Basically, an all-encompassing comet “encyclopedia” that teaches you everything about these little members of our cosmos.
What I really liked about this book was that it had highly decent writing. This is a general area of weakness among the scientist’s work that never was too “important” but always made its absence felt. Especially in the opening chapter of the book where we put ourselves in the shoes of a comet and experience the universe from their eyes, the writing was almost emotional.
A Decent Read
I will not say this is a must-read Carl Sagan book which could be the only work of him without that title. It speaks about a very limited subject and it could get a little boring if you were not interested in it and also not a big fan of the author. Still, it is a nicely written and informative book written by no other than the legendary duo Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan.
If there is one thing to say about Carl Sagan it is that he chose a noble pursuit for himself and went after it his whole life. He will be remembered, as long as we are still around, as one of the most influential men of science of the twentieth century. He may be gone but the impact he had on humanity will forever echo throughout eternity.
Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.