Skip to main content

Book Review: Billions and Billions (1997)

Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium brims with the late astronomer Carl Sagan's faith in science and the human potential. The book contains Sagan's brief writings about mathematics, sports, religion, global warming, the abortion debate, and more.

Billions and Billions also includes a reproduction of "The Common Enemy," a paper of his that points to uncomfortable truths in the recent history of the US and the Soviet Union. In the piece, Sagan urged both countries to think in the long-term, and repeatedly used the pointed phrase: "We make mistakes. We kill our own." The essay was published in both countries (with some censorship in the Russian version).

Sagan begins the book by describing exponents. I was puzzled at first, but then he segued into the vastness of our universe, and how we can begin to comprehend the scale of it using math. He also pointed out how exponential notation can be applied to population growth, microbial organisms, and radioactive elements. The elegance of the narrative flow made me swoon.

Part I of Billions and Billions occupies itself with physics, astronomy, and related fields. He makes it all seem so fun and wonderful and enchanting. In Part II, Sagan earnestly implores humans to recognize our commonality before we destroy our earth. It's the only one we have! He documents efforts by scientists and religious leaders to work together toward the cause of environmental preservation.

In the final part of the book, Sagan adds his reasoned input into the abortion debate. He talks about the different political strategies we use in everyday life, advocates for nuclear arms reduction, and, at the end, shares details about his sickness with readers. He was diagnosed with a rare disease that eventually took his life in 1996, when he caught pneumonia that his weakened immune system couldn't fight off.

His beloved wife and cowriter, Ann Druyan (referred fondly as "Annie" throughout the book) wrote the epilogue of Billions and Billions, because Sagan passed away before its completion. I was sobbing throughout the whole thing. It's so inspiring that we had (and still have, in Ann) people with so much love and enthusiasm for life, who think nothing of sharing that love and their enormous talents and clear-eyed insights with the rest of us. If I had known about Carl and Ann in high school, I'm confident I would have chosen to study environmental sciences in college, my poor math skills be damned.

Well, that's what kids are for, amirite? "Mommy didn't get to be a scientist, so here's a chemistry set and a TI-84 and the complete works of Sagan, Einstein, Curie, Planck, Bohr, Salk, and Fermi. Happy fifth birthday!"

Best. Mommy. Ever.

Popular posts from this blog

An International Women's Day Miracle!

Truly, International Women's Day is a special day. No, not because multitudes are out there rallying for our rights and giving voice to the powerless. It is because I won a gift card from a company raffle!

Let me explain why this counts as a minor miracle. You see, I never win anything. I answer every damned survey sent my way, participate in all the raffles, buy lottery tickets -- to no avail. This particular raffle occurred monthly, and I had been faithfully entering my name every month for two years, with no results. Finally, last month, I declared: "No more!" and unsubscribed from the mailing list -- but not before entering one final time, because why not.


There's also some déjà vu at play here. You see, four years ago, I won a gift card from a company raffle. The one fracking time I won anything! I was elated! Shortly thereafter, also on International Women's Day, I was laid off from my job.

Sooooo...since the day's almost over, I guess I'm not…

Paint Nite!

Last night I joined the "Oops" Paint Nite event hosted by the Club Cafe in Back Bay. About 12+ people came to relax and have two artists guide them through painting this original work:

The point was not to slavishly duplicate "Oops" -- we were instructed to make it our own, to relax, and not to utter the words, "Mine sucks," "Can you do this for me?" or "I thought this was paint-by-numbers!"

Speaking of dashed hopes, I had assumed that wine was included. I had done something like this before, only it was in the morning and we all got mimosas. Not so here! While the artists were setting up, I schlepped over to the bar and was rewarded with a generous pour of Cabernet. Now I was ready.

The setup: Everyone got a 16" x 20" canvas, three paint brushes, and a palette (a paper plate) with red, yellow, blue, and white paint. One artist (Brian) had the microphone and would paint with us, while the other was the assistant (Kory) who wo…

Get Out (2017)

Get Out has a charismatic lead, a terrific soundtrack, and damn good cinematography. While it’s described as horror/comedy, it’s more disturbing/cringe-y than scary, and I mean that in a good way. This is an entertaining movie that’s also pretty effective as social commentary.

The film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a photographer who’s about to spend the weekend at his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parent’s house. Naturally, it’s in a secluded spot in the woods. When they get there, the awkwardness that might be expected from a first-time meeting gives way to a series of bizarre behaviors and interactions. While Chris initially takes it all in stride, it eventually becomes clear that there’s something sinister going on behind the scenes.

The acting and dialogue are highlights of the film, as is the camera work. In particular, Kaluuya’s eyebrows and head tilts are so expressive that the audience knows what’s going on in his head even as he politely brushes off eccentricities. A…