For the Love of Mars: A Human History of the Red Planet

Univ. of Chicago. May 2023. 248p. ISBN 9780226821894. $27.50. SCI
Shindell, a curator at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and author of The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey, examines the changing systems of beliefs and science about Mars, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. The book starts with depictions of Babylonian, Chinese, and Mayan astrological practices that related to the planet as a god who sent messages for people to interpret. A belief in these omens led many cultures to systematically observe and record what they saw in the night sky. Jewish, Islamic, and Christian natural philosophers later connected Mars to changes in the physical world. Medieval physicians related the planet to human health, even partially blaming Mars for the Bubonic plague. Technology—from maps and telescopes to printing and the internet—further changed people’s understanding of the planet, and writers such as Dante and Descartes imagined who might live there. Shindell documents the eras of Mars exploration and colonization, the space race, and the current focus on climate change by looking at the planet from the lens of popular culture and the creation of national space agendas.
VERDICT This insightful history will charm readers of popular science, science fiction, and history.
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