Wilford’s account of the exploration of Mars by spacecraft and his precis of the state of scientific knowledge of the planet are outstanding. He is dealing with material with which he is intimately familiar: the scientific achievements of the American and Russian space programs. Mission after mission is sketched out with a sure hand. Unlike many historians of the unmanned space program, Wilford is not concerned with celebrating technological accomplishments. Instead, he focuses on the scientific knowledge gained, underscoring the unexpected or puzzling fact and the impermanent nature of scientific theories. This is popular science writing and science journalism at its best.
Less successful is his review of the relationship of humans to Mars prior to the space age. The problem is quantitative, not qualitative. Wilford allotted too few pages to his task to do a meaningful job. His history is concise and insightful, but limited in both scope and depth. What is there is fine, but there is not enough for a book claiming to be all-encompassing.
The history and the science are but a prologue, however, for the final half of the book—a justification for future human expeditions to Mars and an argument for the importance of American participation in those expeditions. As the subtitle proclaims, Wilford believes that Mars will be the next great adventure in space. It is human destiny. Of the alternative paths that mankind may follow to achieve that destiny, he argues for a joint, cooperative mission by Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States. He also provides a number of scenarios for the successful completion of the mission. Wilford is the spokesperson for one side of what may be an important debate regarding future American space policy.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. LXXXVI, May 15, 1990, p.1755.
Business Week. July 30, 1990, p.8.
Chicago Tribune. July 18, 1990, V, p.3.
Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, May 15, 1990, p.721.
Library Journal. CXV, June 15, 1990, p.130.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV, July 15, 1990, p.1
Newsweek. CXVI, August 6, 1990, p.65.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, June 8, 1990, p. 39.
The Washington Post Book World. XX, August 12, 1990, p.39.