My earliest recollections of this book are a mix of the blurred stars of the book jacket, the original airing of the PBS series, and its connection to my father. Considering I was only 3 years old at the time, this strikes me as an indication of its import. What I remember distinctly are sitting beside the couch and watching with my father as a long DNA strand stretched out across the television screen and images of the hardbound book in my father's personal library.
A few years after the first run of this series on PBS, my father died. Cosmos always held a certain fascination for me, as a book, as I identified it with my father, but I never read it. Not until a few years ago. Perhaps just to see what my father saw, or to learn what brought the book and series such reverence.
Oh, and what a world.
Inspirational, life affirming, and filled with starry-eyed wonder, Sagan's magnum opus
pleads the case for science as the preferred lens through which to see the world. Written in a time when humanity seemed to teeter on the brink of mutually assured destruction, Sagan argued for rational behavior, for the unity of humanity and absurdity of petty power struggles, for the scientific method as a way to interpret events around us rather than prominent pseudosciences (e.g., astrology) with tenets that seemed deliberately vague and arbitrary (and surprisingly easy to debunk, given their popularity), how we benefit from being skeptical, and the great potential of the human race.
This book earns my unadulterated praise for building upon a philosophy that human beings can do well for themselves if they'd bother considering their ridiculous behaviors and learn how to act sensibly. The potential is there, as evinced by the leaps made by individuals throughout human history. Whether or not we choose to stand upon the shoulders of giants, or cower in their shadows, remains to be seen.
I like to believe that this was a philosophy my father shared and would have taught me firsthand if he'd been around. It's a philosophy I feel I adopted anyway, and, as a result of this similarity, I want to believe in some way a bit of him is preserved in me.
But don't just read the book. To get the full experience, watch the PBS series released in 1980
, narrated by Sagan himself and scored by Vangelis
(later known for Chariots of Fire
, The Last of the Mohicans
,and Blade Runner
, to name a few, but his breakthrough, and one of his best works, remains one of the themes to the 1970 French documentary on the animal kingdom, L'Apocalypse des animaux, la petite fille de la mer
There's a reason Cosmos is the most widely viewed PBS Series in the world. Beautifully stated and brilliantly scored, it tells the story of humanity, our universe, and how we fit within it.
On a personal level, it is a bridge back to my father, an inspiring philosophy, a source of wonder regarding how our world might evolve if the portions of ourselves that influence what is best in us are lost, and whether or not we can avoid disaster long enough to fully realize our potential in spite of ourselves.
If you can't read the book, or watch the series, do yourself a favor and, at the very least, watch this
It has come to my attention that an updated version of this landmark series will be hosted in 2014 by none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson
, entitled COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey
. The trailer shows the new version is very true to the original, with Sagan's infamous Cosmic Calendar, the spaceship of the mind, Johannes Kepler, and several other memorable moments from the 1980s series.