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Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science and Civilisation, Carl Sagan, book reviewThis article is part of our Holiday Reads 2013 series. Cosmos is Matt Haig’s recommendation. Matt just published his second book, The Humans.

I am getting into science books. At school, I hated science, but I think that was mainly because I had not very inspiring teachers. I didn’t get excited by bunsen burners and forceps and those safety goggles you had to wear. Also, I turned up an hour late for my Science GCSE, meaning I ended up getting an F.

Anyway, my allergy to science changed three years ago when I was on holiday in Sardinia. We were staying in a hotel that had books on the bookshelves, most of which were written in Italian. Anyway, one of the few books written in English was Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

I was vaguely aware of Sagan, because he had written the novel Contact, which had been turned into a film with Jodie Foster. In the eighties he’d also turned this book I held in my hands, Cosmos, into a popular TV show.

Anyway, I read it and within about ten pages had doubled my scientific knowledge. That might be an exaggeration, but I was certainly being more stimulated than I’d ever been by a science teacher.

Cosmos is a great book. It is about the universe, yes, but it is also about civilisation. It covers everything from black holes to the Ancient Library of Alexandria. It makes you believe that aliens very likely exist.

And though it is quite a long book it never feels heavy. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, Sagan writes very well. He is the perfect science writer in that he gives you very complex ideas and expresses them in a way you can understand, but without simplifying them. And secondly, he has a total love of his subject. His child-like enthusiasm is contagious. And Sardinia was the perfect place to read it, as the clear night skies make you truly realise that we are in a universe, not just in a world.

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by Carl Sagan

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