Franklyn M(ansfield) Branley David E. Newton - Essay

David E. Newton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

An author has to be really brave to write about this subject nowadays. Information about our solar system is arriving fast and furious, and it's fairly certain that anything in a book dated 1978 will be somewhat incomplete or out of date by the time it appears in print. That's the case with [The Nine Planets, the] latest revision of a book that first appeared twenty years ago. The author has obviously made an effort to incorporate the latest information on the planets, and has been successful to a limited extent. Still, information obtained in the last five years does not seem to have made its way into this revision to the extent that it might have. In the case that would have been of most interest—Mars—there is a striking failure to bring us up to date on the most recent information and theories. The text also suffers from the author's obsession to tell us a little bit about everything remotely connected with the planets. This concern means that many essentially irrelevant topics—thermocouples, ellipses, and Bode's Law for example—are treated so inadequately that they are not readily understandable. Most important of all, perhaps, is the deadliness of the text. It is, for the most part, a recital of unconnected and uninteresting facts. We are at the point now that someone could write a really fascinating story of the planets, making the tale an object lesson in the way scientists work. Here is a chance to show students what scientists do with conflicting and inadequate data. The last chapter of the text makes a beginning in this direction. Finally, the sexist use of "man" whenever "humans" is meant is especially striking in a field in which women have had so much to contribute! What we really should have had here is a totally new book on the planets, not another revision of a twenty-year old text.

David E. Newton, "'The Nine Planets'," in Appraisal: Science Books for Young People (copyright © 1979 by the Children's Science Book Review Committee), Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring, 1979, p. 10.