Friday, October 30, 2009

What's that in the sky? A bird? A plane? A Shooting Star!

The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars

By Christopher Cokinos

Why do we remain obsessed with falling stars? Historians, scientists and religious seekers have all wondered about them and fought over their meaning. In The Fallen Sky, author Christopher Cokinos indulges readers with a wild tale of science, history and human passion. He crisscrosses the planet, from the South Pole to Greenland, hitting every continent while meeting some characters so quirky they’d be laughed out of a novel. This gorgeous story is about the history of meteorites in the human imagination and an old-fashioned adventure tale.

In this broad examination of shooting stars, Cokinos addresses the spiritual beliefs of aboriginal tribes as well as the “entrepreneurial” spirit of the men who stole a fifteen ton (fifteen TON!) meteorite simply to possess it. Meteorites have been seen as portents of doom, used to predict the fall of kings and blamed for the extinction of the dinosaurs. But that doesn’t mean they are not sought after. Remember Excalibur? Cokinos traces myths across the world where a great hero’s sword is made from nothing less than a fallen star.

Even in the rational sphere of science, we find eccentric (or mad) folks convinced that meteorites hold the answers to their questions. Cokinos meets biologists, cosmologists, physicists, and adventurers as they chase down these priceless bits of stardust in remote corners of the earth. A naturalist at heart, Cokinos renders the grandeur of these places with an eye for detail that every reader will appreciate.

Well-researched and lovingly written, this book is a beautiful presentation of an offbeat topic. It was my favorite book of 2009, and I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in either the science or the romance of shooting stars, people who love to read about the last wild places on earth, or those who just want a rousing adventure for a cold winter night.

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