Form and Content

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is one of the best-selling science books ever published in the English language, and there are myriad reasons for its popularity. Sagan reveals an extraordinary passion for science and an unsurpassed talent for disseminating the intricacies of science, without distortion, to any audience. His dedication to rationalism permeates every part of the book. Humans have evolved rationality, he claims, and the species has a natural inclination to interpret the cosmos scientifically. Sagan gives many examples of human scientific explorations throughout history, and he guides readers through the process of discovery, highlighting the frustrating setbacks along with the exhilarating moments of insight. The discovery of new truths is inevitably followed by a reluctance to accept these new ways of perceiving the universe, and Sagan provides dramatic portraits of human ignorance, fear, and hatred and the destructive conclusions to which these most primitive instincts can lead. Rationalism is ultimately optimistic, however, because it asserts that humanity can overcome any problem with which it is confronted; humans have the ability to reason, and Cosmos asserts that reason in science is most beneficial.

Cosmos discusses topics from the subatomic microcosm to the galactic macrocosm and beyond, always clearly making the necessary connections among the scientific disciplines of chemistry, physics, and astronomy. What takes...

(The entire section is 522 words.)