Cover Image: For the Love of Mars

For the Love of Mars

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Mars has long fascinated us Earthlings, whether we were gazing up at it with eyes or telescopes, gazing down at it via orbital probes, or vicariously rolling across/flying over it via a slew of lander expeditions, several of which are still up there tooling around. That long obsession with the planet has prompted a huge number of books, fiction and non-fiction, centered on our red neighbor and now Matthew Shindell has added another — For the Love of Mars — which rather than focusing on Mars itself looks at our long-enduring but changing relationship. It’s a somewhat unbalanced book, and one that could have and probably should have  (and this is something I rarely say)  been longer, but still makes a worthy addition to the Mars library.

Beginning with the Mayans, the ancient Chinese, and the Babylonians, Shindell notes how they wove celestial observations deeply into their political/social/religious structures, seeing (with some variation) the skies as a “text” to read, either as messages from the gods or as a “mirror of human society.”  The Mayans seemed to have a more neutral view of Mars as a marker of seasonal shifts while the other two saw it as more malevolent, a bad omen associated with fire and war amongst other ills. The ancient Greeks viewed the planets and stars less as messengers and more as influencers, “mov[ing] cosmology at least a half-step away from personification or deification” and toward a more logical, “mechanical” image of the universe.” Part of that mechanical view meant trying to explain what the heavens were made of (aether, a fifth element different from those on Earth) and how they moved (variations on spheres, nested spheres, prime movers, etc.). 

Western medieval philosophers continued the idea of the planets influencing events and people on Earth, with everything connected and Mars usually presented as “maleficient” and associated with war and pestilence (including the Black Death). In the East, Arab scholars made a number of advancements: observational, practical (new instruments), and theoretical which eventually made their way to Europe via war and trade. It is in this medieval section that Shindell first brings in imagined voyages to Mars, in this case two allegorical journeys: Bernardus Silvestris’ Cosmographia and Dante’s far better-known Paradiso. In the former, Mars is “blood-red and terrifying” and home to the “Fiery Phlegethon” river. In Paradiso, where each planet is associated with one of the seven virtues, bright red Mars is connected to fortitude, home to Christian martyrs.

The explosion of printing and literacy and the development of new instruments eventually overturned explanations involving spheres and planets that orbit the Sun, but Shindell also thoughtfully explores the way the encounter with the “New World” changed things as well with “new contexts … new networks and institutions … a new empirical culture … [and] a shift … to useful knowledge … about how nature worked and how it could be exploited.”  This change was apparent in the fictional journeys, as when Athanasius Kircher, in his Ecstatic Journey, depicted a Mars made not of aether but the same stuff as Earth, such as sulfur and bitumen, and with literal geographic features rather than allegorical ones: volcanoes, fiery lakes, mountains. Eventually, “a modern Mars”, one with a “shared origin and evolutionary path” would arise, incorporating new science (particularly Kepler and Newton), new technology (better telescopes, spectroscopes), and a god that was less involved, a clockmaker stepping back from the wound timepiece. Things really took off toward the end of the 19th century with the accurate observation of the ice caps (Mars has water!) and the illusory observation of the famous Martian canals. Meanwhile, fictional tales proliferated, with the addition of rocket ships, advanced civilization (later dying civilizations), with H.G. Wells work of course being the most famous of these. While Wells and others tried to present the science realistically, and often used their works for social criticism as well, the pulps — especially Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom/John Carter tales — ushered in a whole new style of space romance/adventure. 

From there Shindell jumps into the modern era, beginning with the Cold War space race and the early Mariner/Viking missions in the 60s and then detailing subsequent robotic fly-bys which filled in more and more details about Mars’ geology and atmosphere and helped slot it into theories of solar system creation alongside Earth is a kind of sister planet. These probes colored (some more than others) depictions of Mars in pop culture via the stories of Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and others, along with TV shows like Cosmos and movies like Total Recall, based on a Philip K. Dick short story. The fly-bys gave way to the next stage of missions, the landers, which confirmed some findings and overturned or complicated others. Here Shindell presents both fictional depictions, such as Andy Weir’s The Martian  and The Expanse  and non-fiction memoirs by those working on the Mars missions, such as Sarah Stewart Johnson’s The Sirens of Mars.

Finally, Shindell looks ahead to the future, looking at questions such as whether humans will stick to robots or send people to Mars, what might be the point of doing so, and whether or not we’ll bring out problems with us — inequality, despoilation of the environment, and others. 

Probably the primary aspect that justifies For the Love of Mars as yet another book on the topic is the relatively unusual framing, which as noted above, is less concerned with the nuts and bolts of exploration (though he covers this) or the planetary science of Mars’ geology and other elements (though he dips into this as well) but how our systems of belief/thought affected the way we looked at Mars, the way we slotted it into those systems, and the way that entanglement shifted from era to era. It’s a relatively unique approach and an interesting one, though the early sections feel more than a little tangential to Mars, and I did wish Shindell had gone more in depth.

The book really takes off with its jump into the modern era, with much more detail and, subjective as it is, what felt like more sparkling, engaging writing. Shindell notes in an intro that Covid changed his plans for the book, and it does feel a bit like the sections on the fly-bys and landers is really where Shindell’s interests lie. Crisp and concise, this part moves apace and offers a good amount of information. Obviously, there are fewer facts in the future segment, which involves more speculation than recitation, but Shindell asks big, important, thought-provoking questions

I can’t say For the Love of Mars offered up a lot of new information, but I’ve read a lot of non-fiction Mars books (including the aforementioned Sirens of Mars) and while those often had more information, what’s here is certainly adequate. What I did like was the different prism, the idea of looking at Mars through a telescope looking back at ourselves to see how our conceptual frameworks of the universe affected our understanding and presentation of Mars. That said, and this may be because of the change due to Covid, but I did want Shindell to slow down and go more in depth in discussion of philosophy, social/political structures, and fictional depictions. On the one hand, For the Love of Mars is nicely concise, but I think having it be a third again as long would have made for a more rich, full exploration.
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This book is pretty much what it says on the tin—a human history of Mars. It's not a science book. It's a social science book. History, sociology, politics, ethics, literature—they all play a role in this story. It's more a story of the human imagination than a story of Mars.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
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This is an original take on space books because the author doesn’t just focus on the scientific aspects of Mars exploration, but the cultural ones as well. Starting with the earliest civilizations and paying attention to very different cultures, Shindell explains how our vision of our neighbor has evolved through the ages and up until now. I especially enjoyed the more scientific content, as well as the detailed view of how the JPL staff handles these projects. The author makes a big effort to be inclusive, which sometimes takes him off on political tangents that distracted me a little. Worrying about the possibility of spreading our shortcomings seems premature, considering we haven’t been able to leave our immediate area. I loved the illustrations at the end of the book, and the long bibliography shows how much research went into this volume. 
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, #NetGalley/#University of Chicago Press!
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The book fell slightly flat to me in the beginning but got more exciting once they discussed about modern Mars and the future of Mars exploration. I'm looking forward to learning more about their future books to see how they improve their craft.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher University of Chicago Press for an advanced copy of this book on humanity's relationship with the planet Mars, how it has inspired us to fly to the heavens and what the future might hold. 

As a long time science fiction fan I can easily list many novels, series, and short stories, many of them classics, that take place on Mars, or feature Mars as the main character. Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, are just some of the names. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy still continues to fascinate, and inspire burgeoning scientists about life on Mars, even The Martian by Andy Weir, is an assigned summer reading book, with the movie on constant play on the F/X channel. Sure there are other planets written about. Arthur C. Clarke pretty much owns Jupiter. Larry Niven has a great short story set on Pluto. Earth has a few books, also, but Mars is the place, and has been filling the imagination of humans since people began to look up at the night sky and go, hmm. Maybe back in the day the sky was clearer, the universe seemed brighter without all the lights we have become accustomed to. The Red Planet looking down at Earth like an angry eye, goading humans to come there. To visit, to explore, maybe even to live. One can't even be a billionaire anymore without planning a space trip to Mars, just don't ask about supplies, or surviving the radiation, billionaires have no time for science. However humans will go to Mars, maybe not as soon as we think. Possibly this book will accompany those voyagers, stuffed like an old AAA road map in a spaceships glove compartment, to be looked at when needed. Dr. Matthew Shindell, curator of Planetary Science and Exploration at the National Air and Space Museum, in his book For the Love of Mars: A Human History of the Red Planet an ode to Mars, a history of humans love affair with the planet, and an explanation of why we should go there, and in many ways need to go. 

Corona virus gave people a lot of time to contemplate things and Doctor Shindell was no exception. Working from home gave Shindell time to think about Mars and what Mars has meant for humanity for so long. Why does Mars matter, what is the siren song that makes people want to write about it, create art for it, and walk it's surface. Shindell began to look at Mars not just with the eyes of a scientist, but across a multitude of disciplines, science, math, art, astrology, even politically. Travelling to Mars is not just expensive, but can be something that emerging states can use to show that they have arrived on the world stage. Attempts to reach Mars have been tried from China, the European Space Program, the United States, even the United Arab Emirates. Shindell also looks at the past, detailing Mars in astrology, calendar makers, art of course, early science, and Victorian thinkers. Finally we travel to the future, to explain why humans explore so far away from home, and the ethical ideas behind this. 

A very different look at both science, the history of space and the more importantly the draw that space has on people. Shindell is a very good author, balancing science with an almost poetic soul of writing. Space is not just a a mind exercise, but something Shindell's soul needs. And it shows in both the writing and the works that are cited. Shindell can explain the atmosphere on Mars, as well as talk about Mexican gothic horror writers, and Babylonian astrologers. The Cold War history I thought was very interesting, and I would like to see Shindell do a larger history of space exploration with this theme. A very different kind of book about space and our place in it. 

Recommended for science readers of course, but also for science fiction writers. There are a lot of story ideas in here that would be nice to flesh out into longer, fictional works. Also the book would serve as a good reference to why certain characters are always looking out there, and not just here. Plus it will inspire creative types of all kinds to dream and look up once in awhile.
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This one didn't quite hit the mark for me. While I love space in all different forms, I felt like the author wasn't quite sure where he was going with this. In the beginning he states he wanted to write a book about robotic exploration and it shows, as the first half of the book is not nearly as informative and well-written as the second half. The first half deals with ancient civilizations and how they viewed Mars; the problem is, the author doesn't actually go much into this. The information about each civilization is more about how they viewed the stars and planets in general, without much focus on Mars itself. It would have been better to shift the focus onto Mars, or cut down the amount of information given, as some of it is quite long-winded without actually being interesting.

The second half of the book focuses more on 20th and 21st century exploration of the planet, which is where it picks up. It's obvious that this is what the author wanted to focus on, as there's more information pertinent to Mars and is more interesting in its delivery. Had the author focused on this entirely as he originally intended, or had the first half been better written and flowed into the second half better, this book would have held my attention more throughout. As it was, I struggled through the first half which made it harder to get through the second half, even with it being more enjoyable. Towards the end the author discusses humans exploring and colonizing Mars and all the implications that comes with it, but doesn't really give this topic enough credit. It should have been expanded on much more, especially given how much focus there is on it between NASA, SpaceX, and other private space exploration companies.

This isn't a bad book on Mars or space exploration, but it certainly isn't my favorite and didn't give me enough new information to make it worthwhile.
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Seriously cool book about a topic that is dear to my heart—space exploration! The first book I've ever seen that asks why we think we have the right to colonize Mars.
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Science, politics and fiction all reflect and effect each other in the history of human's fascination with Mars. The stories drive people to study mars and the politics heavily influence both what kind of stories are told and what kind of science is allowed to happen. 

From the oldest creation myths to the shows on TV today, Shindell examines both what we know about Mars and the stories we tell about the Red Planet in this fascinating book both about Mars and our own history.
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While I have always been enthused about space exploration and scientific research, I found "For the Love of Mars" a bit flat and, at times, rather dull and boring as a history of humanity's curiosity about the Red Planet. Shindell is a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, but comes across more as a college professor than a docent able to excite the crowd with tales of astonishing mythologies and extraordinary history.  The dullest part of the book is the first few chapters, where Mayan priests and Babylonian astrologers are considered with lots of vague sidetracks and little actual focus on Mars. If that content didn't lend itself to the overall theme, it should have been rewritten to tighten it up or it might have suggested that particular culture just wasn't worth more than 2-3 pages of summary information.

The book improves significantly once it makes it into the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly with its discussion of how scientific fiction (eventually retitled science fiction) authors brought the planet to life, even as scientists were refining their increasingly accurate theories about the fate of the planet and its history. Those chapters are undoubtedly the most interesting in the book, including the earliest NASA mission into space and to Mars.

Finally, though, the book ends without Shindell seeming to grasp the significance of the privatization of space exploration and commercial ventures that have already had such impact on space exploration and humanity's dreams and plans related to the Red Planet. It's rather inexplicable; even NASA acknowledges that it's now one of many players in the new Mars space race, but Shindell seems far more dismissive of this trend. 

Ultimately, this might be a book worth skimming, giving yourself permission to delve into the most interesting chapters, but floating above the surface in others that are boring or just lack a depth that readers would hope to find from a subject matter expert.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, The University of Chicago Press, which provided me with an advance digital copy in exchange for my honest review.

Matthew Shindell's "For the Love of Mars" is essentially a love letter to the red planet that celebrates its place in human thought and attempts to champion further attempts at exploration. However, although the book is passionate for its subject it lacks substance and structure and presents a muddled and not entirely coherent narrative.

Like a stone skipping across a lake this book covers a great deal of distance but it only occasionally touches down on anything substantial. This is particularly true for the first half of the book which attempts to survey human thought concerning Mars from early Mesopotamian history to the the early modern period. Although, the author does cover Mayan cosmological and early Chinese views of Mars and acknowledges the importance of medieval Arabic scholarship in developing western views the result is primarily Eurocentric and far from comprehensive.

Coverage from the 18th century through the mid 20th is also incomplete and fragmented. The narrative shifts between detailing astronomical attempts to survey and describe Mars and fictional and speculative depictions of the planet. This pendulum approach is confusing and disappointing since it oscillates between what was known at the time about Mars and what was perceived about it without ever bridging the gap. It also, fails to get beyond a conventional and limited summary of known scientific research during the period while failing to investigate many contemporary literary works.

The book does suddenly feel more solid and coherent once it hits the mid 20th century. This is not really surprising, in that the author concedes in the introduction that he had originally planned to write a book about robotic exploration in the 20th and 21st century. This material is presented in a clearer and more concise way and the author seems to be far more familiar with his sources. These latter chapters present the real strength of the book but. since the emphasis is on what we now know about Mars and not what we think about it or why, they essentially miss the stated intent of the book.

Also disappointing is the author's treatment of the future of the exploration and development of Mars. He does hit all the key points and covers topics such as the legacy of European colonialism and environmental degradation. However, this final part of the book seems like a rushed academic box checking exercise and does very little to actually explore or examine these important topics.

In summary, although relatively well written and often entertaining "For the Love of Mars" does not offer a treatment of its subject that is comprehensive enough or coherent enough for most readers. In fact, there is really nothing in this book that a reader with average research skills could not pull off Wikipedia or the NASA site. This is unfortunate, in that the author is clearly knowledgeable and passionate on the subject. Hopefully, he will get a chance to write the book he originally intended to write; that book should it ever be written, would surely be a more worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.
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For the Love of Mars: A Human History of the Red Planet, by Matthew Shindell, is a fascinating look at how we have perceived our celestial neighbor over the centuries.

This history, while touching on science as we progress through the ages, is not a science book but a history book about an object of science. From myths and misunderstandings to scientific mistakes and corrections, we trace the history of Mars as it has evolved with our own evolution. 

Shindell takes a global approach, including perspectives often overlooked in western histories. Admittedly this doesn't, and can't within the limits of a book one can reasonably carry, go into minute detail about every way in which every culture has understood Mars. To criticize it for not doing what it couldn't do is posturing and can be ignored. An entire book could likely be written about every culture's perception of Mars, and even the western perspectives included are not given a deep dive. But then some people like to pose by claiming all of the information in a book can be found on wikipedia and other online sites. Even when such a sweeping statement is true it means little to nothing, since the idea of a history book is to bring things from many different sources together into a coherent whole. This book does that very well. Even if much of the material is available online, which it likely isn't.

If you like reading about the history of objects that have gone from having a largely mythical or spiritual meaning to one based mostly in science (though still deeply embedded in our collective imagination), you will enjoy this book. You'll learn some new things, and remember just how intriguing our planetary neighbors can be.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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This book is excellent! It has a really awesome combination of science and history, balancing the two in a way that feels accessible for readers coming with multiple frames of reference. It was really neat to have in one volume discussions of ancient cultures and myths and modern day science and Cold War history and sci-fi literature. Just overall a really cool and entertaining read.
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really enjoyable history of Mars - how it was and is regarded, and geographically/culturally impressions that counted across the world and across time. he gets very contemporary too about our own visions here in west of what Mars might mean - escape? salvageable place? how impact on our survival necessities - pros and cons - all told in readable and relevant ways - really terrific and appealing to the imagination ... loved it (he really seems to know his topic historically and as space scientist in a way - astroscientist i should say ...)
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To start off, I received and advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley and The University of Chicago press. 

This book really wasn't for me. While I appreciated how comprehensively researched this book was, I went into it expecting more of a pop science non-fiction book, which it is not. This book is a very thorough history of human's relationship with Mars and the cosmos more generally. It covers culture all around the globe in every time period from ancient civilizations to today and explores the role that Mars has played in religion, mythology, early science, and pop culture. There was a huge variety of topics and I personally found the last chapter/conclusion on the future possibilities of Mars exploration and the pitfalls to avoid (e.g. brining Earth's current division, consumption, colonialism, and capitalism) really compelling. I think this book is more tailored to an academic audience who wants a primer on this topic as it reads much more like a textbook than something from Bill Bryson, Mary Roach, or Yuval Noah Harari.
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This was a very interesting book. I love the way the author talked about humans and Mars. I would say pick it up if your a science nerd. You will love it. I hope to own this one day. 

Countless works of fiction have been dedicated to it, but an essay that takes the reader through all the stages of birth and growth of the myth of Mars. I think the opening chapter was so what heavy. I would have like to read more about the role of Mars. 

Overall this is a thought provoking,  entertaining read that has enough science to satisfy needs like me, but not so much technical detail that a non-scientists would be scared off of it. I would definitely recommend the book too readers of space exploration stories both fiction and fantastical.
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This is a 4.5 star read for me. I always round half stars down. 

This book is an interesting and, in my opinion, refreshing examination of humanity’s fascination with Mars. I was glad that this book placed Mars in a broader cultural context instead of only focusing on science. This balance was sometimes lopsided — the opening chapter was a little heavy on discussions of creation myths and while I don’t think any of that information doesn’t belong in a study of Mars, I would have liked to see more mention of the role Mars, specifically, played in the ancient cultures featured in this book. The book as a whole was weighted a little heavily toward the Cold War-Present day era of Mars, which is understandable given the wealth of information recent Mars missions have generated. I still would have liked to see this balanced out with a more thorough examination of historical accounts of Mars. 
As a science fiction fan, I appreciated the discussions of Mars in literature and how Martian exploration was used as a framework for stories of imperialism. These discussions showed more than any other part of the book the role Mars played in the imaginations of peoples past and present. This book sought to be anti-imperialist in its discussion of Mars, challenging the Euro-centric notion that medieval European astronomers had the most sophisticated knowledge and continued to challenge modern colonialist ideas that are so often invoked in the discussion of sending humans to Mars. I do think this book would benefit from a companion book or expanded edition that places even heavier emphasis on non-western cultures and gives a platform for marginalized people who have been left out of the conversation on space exploration to further elaborate on the question, “Who do we want to be when we become Martians?” 
Overall, this is a thought-provoking, entertaining read that has enough science to satiate nerds like me, but not so much technical detail that non-scientists would be scared off. I’d recommend it to readers of space exploration stories both fictional and fantastical.
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Mars, the red planet, occupies a space of its own in the collective imagination. Its peculiarities, most notably the red colour it takes on at certain times, have given it a prominent place among celestial bodies. Countless works of fiction have been dedicated to it, among which I would like to mention 'Stranger in a Strange Land', in which the protagonist, a human raised by Martians, takes on an almost Christ-like stature. Shindell's book is not fiction, but an essay that takes the reader through all the stages of the birth and growth of the myth of Mars, right up to the most recent explorations and the confirmation that curiosity about the planet probably has something to do with the affinity we humans feel for that 'lost twin' of Earth.
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