For the Love of Mars
A Human History of the Red Planet
by Matthew Shindell
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Pub Date 18 May 2023 | Archive Date 01 May 2023
Mars and its secrets have fascinated and mystified humans since ancient times. Due to its vivid color and visibility, its geologic kinship with Earth, and its potential as our best hope for settlement, Mars embodies everything that inspires us about space and exploration. For the Love of Mars surveys the red planet’s place in the human imagination, beginning with ancient astrologers and skywatchers and ending in our present moment of exploration and virtual engagement.
National Air and Space Museum curator Matthew Shindell describes how historical figures across eras and around the world have made sense of this mysterious planet. We meet Mayan astrologer priests who incorporated Mars into seasonal calendars and religious ceremonies; Babylonian astrologers who discerned bad omens; figures of the Scientific Revolution who struggled to comprehend it as a world; Victorian astronomers who sought signs of intelligent life; and twentieth- and twenty-first-century scientists who have established a technological presence on its surface. Along the way, we encounter writers and artists from each of these periods who take readers and viewers along on imagined journeys to Mars.
By focusing on the diverse human stories behind the telescopes and behind the robots we know and love, Shindell shows how Mars exploration has evolved in ways that have also expanded knowledge about other facets of the universe. Captained by an engaging and erudite expert, For the Love of Mars is a captivating voyage through time and space for anyone curious about Curiosity and the red planet.
“This is the right voice to bring Mars vividly to life. Shindell’s history of what we know about the red planet goes beyond Western ideas, bringing valuable knowledge from many times, places, and cultures both into our view and into rich conversation. Its diverse perspectives and cast of characters make For the Love of Mars an essential read.” ― Janet Vertesi, author of Shaping Science: Organizations, Decisions, and Culture on NASA’s Teams
“Through a wonderful combination of scholarly scientific research and thoughtful humanist perspective, Shindell’s For the Love of Mars provides a delightfully educational and entertaining history of our exploration of the red planet.” ― Jim Bell, Mars researcher and coauthor of Discovering Mars: A History of Observation and Exploration of the Red Planet
“Shindell has done the impossible: setting out the long history of human engagement with the red planet over thousands of years in a single book. For the Love of Mars is compelling reading for anyone who has ever looked at, or even just wondered about, the fourth world from the sun and whether we'll set foot on it someday.” ― Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society
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Average rating from 6 members
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.
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.
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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