Friday, January 22, 2010

Review of *The Planets* by Dava Sobel

Sobel offers intimate essays inspired by the planets in our solar system, which she describes as "an assortment of magic beans or precious gems in a little private cabinet of wonder--portable, evocative, and swirled in beauty." She frames each essay in a different light, using a particular planet as a stepping stone toward a discussion of larger issues. Her "Jupiter" essay becomes a meditation on astrology, while her essay on the Sun, which relates the actual birth of the universe seemingly ex nihilo, evokes the Genesis account of creation in both its themes and the cadence of its language.

Put simply, Sobel's conceits work (even, remarkably, the essay on Mars written from the persepctive of a Martian rock) because each beautifully frames its planet. An essay that begins with the story of Sobel's grandmother coming to the United States as an immigrant, for example, sets up the author's musings on the odd nature of Pluto as somewhere in between "planet" and "other."

This resonant and eclectic collection--informative, entertaining and poetic--is a joy to read.


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