Posted by: Genny Colby | March 2, 2012

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

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

By Mike Brown

Product Details

Anyone else remember the Barbie Doll that said “Math is hard”?  Yeah, I was pretty pissed off at that one too.  Even though I had played with Barbie Dolls as a girl (though not as intently as my sister did), this really got me thinking about what messages we were sending to young girls.

I am lucky in that I know many females who work in the math and science areas as engineers, professors, accountants, etc.  I know I can raise my daughter to see all the possibilities.  But I am going to be honest, math is not my strong suit.  Once I got into algebra and geometry, it did become more of a challenge for me.  I realize that I am much more of a conceptual learner and a lot of the higher maths require you to be more of an abstract thinker.  But you know what?  I am okay with that, I know where my strengths are and I can play to those.

But just because I am not really an abstract thinker does not mean I don’t love learning.  I do have a strong interest in the sciences, as long as you don’t require me to do complex math calculations (let’s not talk about high school chemistry okay?).   I loved my Conceptual Physics class in high school and I took a wonderful Astronomy class in college.  Lucky me even got our Professor for our discussion section that semester!

I love to watch and read science fiction.  One of my favorite units teaching was always when we would do “Space”.  But while my sister will pick up a non-fiction science book for fun (String Theories anyone?) I have not been drawn to these mostly because they end up being very abstract and math based.  Since this is not my strong suit, not really what I am looking to be drawn into when it comes to my reading choices.

I saw this book on our cousin’s Goodreads list and it sounded really interesting, so I thought I would break out of my shell and give it a shot.  I am so glad I did!  We all remember hearing about how Pluto lost its status as a planet, but except for reading some news articles at the time, I had not really given it much more of a thought, except how many books were now wrong.  Or how so many of my teaching materials would need to be altered.

This book is written by Mike Brown, who found the other objects in the sky that lead to the discussion on how to define a planet, thus leading to Pluto’s change in status.  He writes for those of us who are not as immersed in the worlds as he is and with a great deal of humor and good nature about the whole process.

Really this book is about more than just what happened to Pluto, more of his journey to this point.  He talks about the process of watching the night sky and the (tedious) work it is to compare images from days, months, and even years of the same small spot in space to see if something really is there and it is moving.  And if you can find something that is in fact moving, then how far away is it, how fast is it moving, how big is it, and if possible, a best guess of what it is made of.   How do you present your findings?  When is the right time?  And what if you get scooped?    Mr Brown takes us through his discoveries, showing both how rewarding, as well as disappointing this process of discovery can be.  It is not wonder, even with the vast amount of our own universe we have yet to learn about, how few new “big” discoveries there have been in our lifetime.

There is enough science for those that want the that kind if detail, but there is also a humanity to the story that places it all in context for those like me want the concepts, not the mathematical reasoning.  Not only was this an interesting read that held my attention, keeping me up at night reading, but also one that taught me a lot.  Now I can’t wait to go out and look at the night sky and see what we can find.  Maybe even finally get the hubby that telescope he has been talking about too!


  1. I can’t wait to read this.

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