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Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World [Hardcover]

Oliver Morton
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 4 2002 0312245513 978-0312245511 First Edition
Who are the extraordinary individuals that will take us on the next great space race, the next great human endeavor, our exploration and colonization of the planet Mars? And more importantly, how are they doing it? Acclaimed science writer Oliver Morton explores the peculiar and fascinating world of the new generation of explorers: geologists, scientists, astrophysicists and dreamers. Morton shows us the complex and beguiling role that mapping will play in our understanding of the red planet, and more deeply, what it means for humans to envision such heroic landscapes. Charting a path from the 19th century visionaries to the spy-satellite pioneers to the science fiction writers and the arctic explorers -- till now, to the people are taking us there -- Morton unveils the central place that Mars has occupied in the human imagination, and what it will mean to realize these dreams.

A pioneering work of journalism and drama, Mapping Mars gives us our first exciting glimpses of the world to come and the curious, bizarre, and amazing people who will take us there.

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From Amazon

As Oliver Morton shows in his superb new book, Mapping Mars, Mars has clouds, winds, and shorelines. It has river valleys, mountains, volcanoes, and even glaciers. Even were it lifeless, it could support life, albeit of an almost unimaginably marginal kind. What Mars lacks is places. There are no "theres" there, nor will there be--until our feet make an impact on its soil.

Oliver Morton has a sense of place and a hunger for Mars, and a thrilling manner of communicating both. His account of our nearest neighbor's history, geology, and human potential is exhaustive. Morton touches on just about everything, from soil composition to survival techniques; from Martians to maps (maps, above all: they are his abiding subject, metaphor, and organizing principle). His artistry is to hide his daunting range of interests under a passionate and gripping human narrative: this book is about what Mars has meant, means, and may one day mean for us. And he has a wide-ranging definition of who "we" are. Like a good military historian, Morton knows to pay attention to the foot soldiers of science, as well as to the achievements of their celebrated masters. He understands how different the sciences are from each other, and how rivalries between them arise. Further, Morton understands where these people and their institutions sit in the general culture. He understands the crossover between science and science fiction, between space advocates and space fans.

All of which makes Morton's book something more than just "the story of Mars." It is, in addition, an astute study of how we go about exploring our world. --Simon Ings

From Publishers Weekly

Well-known British science writer Morton, a contributor to Wired, the New Yorker and Science, traces scientists' efforts to map and understand the surface of Mars. Because much of the planet's surface material is basalt, which is porous, Morton explains, it is very probable that water from Mars's now dry canyons long ago sank into underground aquifers and froze. Mars has often been regarded as the planet most similar to Earth, but the author describes graphically how startlingly different its topography is. Mars is a planet with mountains larger than whole American states and plains the size of Canada. Our Grand Canyon would be dwarfed by the massive erosion canyons that surprised us a decade ago with their implication that titanic floods once rushed across the planet's surface. Olympus Mons, its largest volcano, is taller than two Everests, contains more than four times the total volume of the Alps and has a circumference larger than the distance between the northern and southern tips of the home islands of Japan. Morton writes eloquently and displays a breadth of knowledge not often found in science writing. He summarizes how science fiction authors have imagined Mars as well as how pre-computer artists used airbrush techniques to depict Mars's monstrous contours. The book might have benefited from being more tightly focused, but astronomy and geology buffs will be sure to snap it up. 16 color photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid book , a major achievement. Jan. 20 2004
Format:Hardcover
First of all, if you have the slightest interest in the geology of Mars, or in maps, or in planetary science (and, if not, why are you here?) you *need* to read this book.
"This is a splendid book and a major achievement in the study of Mars.... A number of authors might fairly claim to have written the best Mars novel, but this is the best factual book on Mars that money can buy."
-- New Scientist, Google for online review
"When the investigator, having under consideration a fact or group of facts whose origin or cause is unknown, seeks to discover their origin, his first step is to make a guess." --GK Gilbert, Science 3(53), 1896 (which codified the method of multiple working hypotheses). Gilbert, of course, was "one of the happy generation of American geologists who...took their impressive beards and intellects to every corner of the American West."
Tidbits: Gene Shoemaker's first map of Meteor Crater, in 1957, was done for the old AEC, as part of a truly crackbrained scheme to manufacture plutonium by detonating uranium-wrapped A-bombs underground. Which, thank heavens, never got very far. Gene didn't like the idea, either, but who's to turn down funding?
No map of exotic lands is complete without exotic names, and the map of Mars is well-stocked: Noctis Labyrinthus, the Labyrinth of Night. Tithonium Chasma, Albe Patera --a volcano that occupies an area about equal to that of India --Claritas Fossae, Utopia Planita... Olympus Mons! Formerly Nix Olympica, the Snows of Olympus --and the highest mountain known to humanity. Mauna Kea, Earth's biggest volcano, would fit comfortably inside Olympus' summit caldera. OM contains some 3.5 million cubic km of rock--or the area of Texas, if excavated 8 km deep. This is one *humongous* mountain.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read Dec 28 2003
Format:Hardcover
When I first saw this book I was fascinated, but I held off till it came out in paperback. Mapping Mars is a very different book than Hartmann's Traveler's Guide. Morton is concerned with helping us understand the process we have gone through in the understanding of the face of Mars. As such, he interviewed many key players in the space-age study of Mars and paints his portrait of Mars through their work.
Mapping Mars is concerned more with the "big picture" of Mars than the Traveler's Guide. As such its illustrations are more concerned with showing the evolution of our maps and our mental images of Mars. Part of that "big picture" is our cultural view of Mars through our science fiction, art and exploration plans. He spends quite a bit of time on these topics - but does not sacrifice the science content.
The book reads like a series of personal vignettes of the people involved in the illumination of Mars - people like Hartmann, Michael Carr, Michael Malin and Bob Zubrin.
Mapping Mars reads well and draws the reader into the personal and scientific journey of understanding Mars.
Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone home next door? June 24 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"There's a world on my wall", writes Morton. Distant, remote, mysterious, it has been the subject of speculation, invention, misconception and investigation. Mars has provoked almost as much interest as our moon. Morton traces the early views of what this distant planet might represent and how a generation of human probing has revealed. It's a world of extremes, he declares. The highest mountains in the solar system. Immense chasms that might indicate massive water flows or something else not found in earthly canyons. The atmosphere is thin and cold, but can sustain global dust storms. In short, everything we learn about Mars raises more questions than provides answers. The world on his wall is one of several attempts to map this remote place and characterise it. Morton's account is informative and compelling as he presents what we have learned and the people who have provided the information.
Morton shows how the struggle to understand Mars is faced with limitations. The usual path of comparison with features on Earth prove feeble and vague. Antarctica is one model, the Hawaiian volcanoes another. Neither fits sufficiently to provide valid comparisons. Mars, he urges, must be understood within its own framework. That implies the picture must be built up from a fresh foundation. The foundation has only been sketched by the various probes sent to Mars during the past generation. The interpreters of data transmitted from fly-by probes, landers and surface rovers are the heroes of Morton's account.
Mapping Mars had its origins in Berlin in 1830 when two astronomers sought to establish the length of the Martian day.
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Format:Hardcover
Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World written by Oliver Morton is a wonderfully fascinating story about the fourth planet in our solar system... Mars.
For the better part of the book the author informs the reader on the geology of Mars along with history of mapping the surface of Mars early on with telescopes... and then later on the Mars explorer robotics that landed a few years ago.
The author's writing style is easy going and very informative. You can read the book with ease... quite frankly once you start you'll find it hard to put down, with the intellectual history and the engaging writing style you'll quickly be engrossed in the book.
Mars is cratered much like our Moon and has a most beguiling landscape. There are picture in the book that gives the reader a good sense of what the author is taking about when it comes to the geology of Mars. Only after our spacecraft reached its orbit could we see Mars for what it is, a planet with a surface area as great as that of the Earth's continents, all of it as measurable, as real as the stones in the pavement outside your door.
This book is about how ideas from our full and complex planet are projected onto the rocks of that simpler, empty one. The ideas discussed are mostly scientific, because it is the scientists who have thought hardest and best about the realities of Mars. It is the the scientists who have fathomed the ages of its rocks, measured its resemblance to the Earth, searched for its missing waters, and always wondered about the life it might be home to.
Engagingly fascinating are the two words that rightfully describe this book, enjoyable without technobable.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Some of the best science journalism I've seen
I highly recommend Oliver Morton's Mapping Mars. Not only does it frame the debate about the likelihood of life on Mars, but also does a great job of explaning our changing... Read more
Published on Jan. 31 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A lucid and engaging gem of a book
Mapping Mars covers more ground than its title would suggest. Not only does it give an enjoyable account of the attempts to describe Mars' topography, it also tells of how... Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Well balanced and engaging modern cultural history of Mars
I bought this book on a whim after getting interested in Mars colonization after reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, to which Dr. Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2003 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars End of the book causes me to drop two stars.
Most of this book was actually very interesting. The author describes martian geography, the Mars Global Surveyor, and the evolution of martian maps for the first 3/4's of the... Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Divergent Mapping Of Mars
Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton is an excellent book! Morton takes the reader on the very human journey to map Mars from Percival Lowell to the folks planning the 2003 rovers. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2002 by Bruce Crocker
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking at the Face of a Neighbor
The one geographic feature of the planet Mars that most people can think of is the famous "Face on Mars," a huge rock formation which is, if the fringe interpreters have it right,... Read more
Published on Sept. 11 2002 by R. Hardy
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