Book Review: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Book Review: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

I think I mentioned previously that we’d had a little discussion about the planets and I casually mentioned that I didn’t think Pluto was one any longer and the girls asked why and I found this article to explain: Why Pluto Is No Longer a Planet. Well that article and the video embedded in it quite satisfied my curiosity and I considered the topic shelved.

Until a friend on Facebook posted a link to a book: How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming I can’t remember any more which Facebook friend recommended it to me, but I’m ever so grateful. This was a most delightful memoir, very funny, informative, a gripping story, just an all-round great read that I could hardly put down for two days.

It was so good that I picked it up to read while Lucia was nursing on Saturday. Well, she finished and I put her on the floor to play while I finished my chapter. Then I remembered I was at a party and should maybe go mingle. Yeah. That kind of book.

So Mike Brown is the astronomer who discovered Eris, which for a brief moment was considered the tenth planet until he successfully campaigned to have both it and Pluto demoted. Brown really makes the science interesting and accessible and intertwines his own story: not only the ups and downs and frustrations of the research but also meeting a girl, getting engaged, getting tenure, having a daughter.
Oh and he has a whole interlude chapter about being the hyper-intellectual parents of a newborn and how he lost himself in charting her eating and sleeping and that’s why he doesn’t remember any of the press conferences or tv interviews he did…. So geeky cool.

This would be a perfect book to assign to a middle schooler or high schooler who was even remotely interested in astronomy, a great living book to weave into any astronomy curriculum or any history of science curriculum. I’m actually thinking of reading excerpts to Bella because his explanation of the history of the naming and exploration of the planets is fascinating. I had no idea that Ceres used to be considered a planet and so did three other asteroids for a brief period of time. I learned something about telescopes and something about research procedures and how astronomical bodies get named today. This book makes me want to go out and look at the sky with my kids.

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  • Ellie,

    Oh good. Do read it.


    I thought Brown actually made a wonderfully balanced presentation of all the points of view on the planet question, explaining all the possibilities and what was good and bad about all of them. But he didn’t directly address the science fiction principles, just the popular culture/consensus angle, which that is sort of a subset of.

  • Oh I bet he does, and I’m dying to read it. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I love John C Wright, who is mostly miffed that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore because in one of his worlds he had the first explorer to reach Pluto accidentally set it on fire.

    It’s hard on golden age sci fi geeks like my dad, though. To them it feels like scientific inquiry started turning backwards.

    • I kind of felt that way till I got to the part of the book where he explained that several asteroids were considered planets until they found so many of them it started to seem silly and so they demoted them and came up with a new name to describe them. That to me seems like a perfectly sound precedent. But Brown is pretty sympathetic to those who are upset at the overturn of the old order.