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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.