The Planet-Girded Suns

History of Human Thought About Extrasolar Worlds

Non-Fiction - Historical
268 Pages
Reviewed on 12/17/2012
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Author Biography

Sylvia Engdahl is the author of nine science fiction novels, six of which are Young Adult novels that are also enjoyed by adults. The one for which she is best known, Enchantress from the Stars, was a Newbery Honor book, winner of the 1990 Phoenix Award of the Children's Literature Association, and a finalist for the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year in the Rediscovery category. Her three latest novels, the Flame Trilogy (Stewards of the Flame, Promise of the Flame and Defender of the Flame) are for adults.
Recently Engdahl published an updated and expanded edition of her nonfiction book The Planet-Girded Suns, first published in 1974 with the subtitle "Man's View of Other Solar Systems" and now subtitled "The History of Human Thought About Extrasolar Worlds." She is a strong advocate of space colonization and has maintained a widely-read space section of her website for many years. She also created the site, which contains quotations about why humankind must expand into space. From her home in Eugene, Oregon she now works as a freelance editor of nonfiction anthologies for high schools.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Ian Miller for Readers' Favorite

"The Planet-Girded Suns" by Sylvia Engdahl is about what people have thought about exoplanets, and how the thoughts of exoplanets have influenced our thinking. It starts off with an account of historical thoughts from the Aristotelian era through the middle ages to the present. This is quite an amazing survey, with quotes from documents that must have been very difficult to get hold of. It is interesting that during the various periods of history, people’s beliefs in exoplanets varied from “the heavens are littered with them” through to “we are probably unique.” These various positions depended on religious interpretations, thoughts that “our system is average” to “purpose”. Engdahl covers these various positions with great skill. The section on modern times, when exoplanets were found, is perhaps the thinnest part of the book, and it is evident that it was written only for the new edition. This is then followed by a section on questions about how such exoplanets fit in to our future, with philosophical questions of what we should or should not do, if we were able. It discusses SETI, UFOs, space travel, “use” of exoplanets, and a number of other issues, all from a philosophical viewpoint rather than a technical one. Finally, scattered through the book, and at the end, are a number of poems and writings relating to how people have thought about exoplanets. Poets include Donne, More, Dryden, Milton, Chudleigh (who employed Descarte's "vortex theory"), Pope, Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, Byron, Oersted, Whitman, Hardy, Kipling, and Engdahl.

"The Planet-Girded Suns" by Sylvia Engdahl is quite an amazing book. Engdahl has crated a well-crafted, well-researched and unique view on exoplanets, and is a must-read for those who want a different view on space than the usual technical one.