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Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Paperback – May 12 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (May 12 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345379187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345379184
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 20.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #101,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Library Journal

It is doubtful that there is anyone unfamiliar with noted astronomer and science writer Sagan's ability to convey the wonder, excitement, and joy of science. This book is a wonderful, if eclectic, collection of essays, some reprinted from magazines of national prominence, covering a wide range of topics: the invention of chess, life on Mars, global warming, abortion, international affairs, the nature of government, and the meaning of morality. Writing with clarity and an understanding of human nature, Sagan offers hope for humanity's future as he illuminates our ability to understand ourselves and to change the world for the better. The last chapter is an account of his struggle with myelodysplasia, the illness that finally took his life in December 1996. An epilog written by his wife is a personal account of the man rather than the scientist admired by so many. This last book is a fitting capstone to a distinguished career. Enthusiastically recommended.
-?James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Carl Sagan died last December, and as a result, these essays exude a feeling of interrupted eloquence. The celebrity planetary astronomer possibly had more books to write that could have compared favorably with his Cosmos (1980) or Pale Blue Dot (1994), but disappointingly, this collection does not bloom like those dependable library perennials. Perhaps expectations are overly inflated with a new Sagan exposition in hand--but here, expectations rapidly deflate upon seeing that the contents comprise much reprinted material, such as nonscience articles he and his wife and coauthor, Ann Druyan, wrote for a Sunday newspaper supplement. One Parade piece, advancing their argument in favor of legal abortion, sourly criticizes televangelist Pat Robertson for using his influence to mobilize opposition to the 1990 article, a point that skates over the sway the authors themselves were trying to exert in the abortion controversy by means of their article. In other chapters, the subjects are flat--an explanation of the origin of Sagan's brand-name cliche"billions and billions" --or the subjects are rudimentary. Blemishes apart, this collection offers some worthwhile essays: his account of battling cancer or summaries of the enviro-political issues that he weighed in on, such as ozone depletion and the fossil fuels^-atmospheric warming nexus. However uneven and eclectic, this tome still flashes with Sagan's curiosity, wonder, and humanity concerning the scientific enterprise. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the first book by Sagan that I've read. Simply said, it's written brilliantly ! I was amazed when I read the chapter on abortion. Sagan leads you to start thinking about issues in a different plane altogether. His systematic, analytical & scientific approach to solving problems would help anyone with a little logical bent of mind. The chapter on '20th century' seemed to cover environmental issues (again !) though Sagan had dealt with those exhaustively in earlier chapters.
All in all, definitely worth reading. Pity that we don't have him around to share his views on what is going on in today's world !
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Format: Paperback
This is an unbelievably moving and brilliant book. I wasn't prepared for what an environmentalist Sagan was or how much of his last book would be devoted to those causes, but it was a welcome surprise, especially since he comes to environmentalism from a place, quite simply, of understanding the human being's place in the cosmos. Sagan doesn't believe in man's place being at the top of creation -- on the contrary, he asserts that human beings are a transitional step in evolution, and if we don't destroy ourselves, there are still more strange and fascinating creatues left to evolve from us. What really makes the book a stunning series of insights, though, is the closing essay "In the Shadow of the Valley," Sagan's first-person account of his struggle with cancer. As he continues to fight bravely and, nonetheless, closes in on death, he shows an admirable ability to embrace the rational world he's known so well, rather than fleeing into superstition. His wife, Ann Druyan, made me weep with her inspiring and sad account of Carl's final hours, which serves as an afterword for the book. Truly an amazing achievement, to look in the face of death, without fear, believing that the only afterlife comes in the way people remember you. Magnificent and terrifying.
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Format: Paperback
This book was admittedly not what I expected, but I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised. When first reading this book Sagan essay's offers insight into more mathematical and scientific insights. However, the book began to discuss the power of exponential growth which has led to the fear of overpopulation. Overpopulation led to the discussion of environmentalism and abortion. I never realized what a green proponent Sagan is, and it is heartening to know that a popular scientific mind is touting these issues.
Those of you that watched the Cosmos series and enjoyed his work will also enjoy educating yourself on microbiological ideas and insights. The book is very readable and designed to be read for by a layperson. I hope that people that voted republican this year has a clearer insight on how the Republican Party is for big business and not for the future, nor for your children's well being. What surprises me most is when we vote in a president that is in the back pocket of big oil, and most people that voted for him have little to gain except for a few bucks on tax decreases and whole lot more CFCs.
This book and Sagan's essasys are especially pertinent when Bush and his hacks want to roll back the reductions on CFCs for his coporate buddies in Texas. Read this book, learn from an educated scientific scholar and don't listen to political rhetoric from a greedy elistist like our current president, GW Bush.
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Format: Paperback
There are two ironies here. Despite Carl Sagan's extraordinary success in science and his consummate skill as a popular writer of science, his greatest name recognition is a consequence of a parody. Sagan was a frequent guest on the Tonight show starring Johnny Carson., and Johnny often did sketches mimicking him where he used the phrase "billions and billions", with particular emphasis on the b's. The second is that even though Carl never uttered the phrase, he chose it to be the title of a book written as he was dying of cancer.
I have read most of his popular works on science and he is one of the best, on the order of Isaac Asimov or Stephen Jay Gould. In looking back at his career, it is easy to overlook his substantial accomplishments in astronomy. The first time I was exposed to his work was from an article in National Geographic where he was cited for his work in exobiology. My second exposure was when I slogged through the book "Intelligent Life in the Universe" that he wrote in collaboration with I. S. Schlokovskii. Heady reading for a middle school student. While I may not have understood the material, I did recognize the quality of the work.
The main theme of this book is the severe environmental problems that this planet currently faces. Despite the reluctance of some to accept the data, there can be little doubt that the planet is heating up and the most logical explanation is human activity. The burning of fossil fuel is pumping enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This gas captures solar energy at a rate far in excess of its true percentage in the atmosphere. In second place is the destruction of the ozone layer, where once again small amounts generate a cascading effect far beyond the amounts.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book to be simply stunning. In fact it is really the book that set me, both physically and mentally in motion. It awakened in me a curiousity and zeal for knowledge that I hadn't remembered since my early childhood. So anyway I am now nearly finished with my undergraduate work and planning grad school. Ah the excitment of being a biologist. In billions and billions Sagan tackles many issues thoughtfully and as honestly as they can be. One reiviewer who thought the novel terrible and couldn't give it as a gift thought Sagan's ideas on the environment were cursory at best was, I think, completely off base. Sagan hits all the major points of our environmental problems and I think offers excellent solutions for them. Easily demolished? Only if you are a Rush Limbaugh fan who can easily dismiss obvious data. What I notice most about the reviews of this book that find it awful, or drivel, or plain bad is that it isn't that Sagan was short or a bad writer or any real and valid complaint, but rather that they simply disagree with his position on matters not of science. Sagan was an athiest but he was always respectful of religion. He felt his postion strong enough to stand in oposition to the popular one. I think the dismissiveness of the critics betrays their own fears that ideas like God, and religion aren't so strong, aren't so ready to be challenged. My quiestion is if they aren't, then what good are they? If we dismiss with out serious investigation then how strong are our ideas?
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