Carl Sagan is known for making astronomy and the mysteries of the universe accessible to the public, through his lectures, television shows and books. His novel ”Contact” was made into a popular film, one that I loved with all my heart despite its flaws. So saying negative things about his collection of essays ”Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium” is a little like swearing in church: you should only really do it under your breath so no one hears because it is frowned upon.
In this book, written just before the turn of the century and his own death, Sagan touches upon several issues that trouble mankind. Nuclear weapons, global warming, mathematics. Some issues have to do with our survival, others with ethics, others still with things that transcend the human experience and things that we cannot possibly grasp with our limited knowledge of things.
There is no thread that runs through this book, as it is a very loosely connected bunch of essays. Because of this, Sagan repeats himself, and this in itself made me question why some of the essays were included in this collection to begin with. I found my thoughts drifting away to other things while reading. More often than not this is the result of boredom. I’m sorry to say that this book bored me. Some parts I found interesting (like the essay on abortion) but in general the repetitiveness and (especially during the first third of the book) the dry facts and numbers left me feeling very reluctant to continue reading.
Contact (the movie) made me feel the same way as I do when I look up at the sky on a clear night: a sense of wide-eyed wonder, a love for our universe so fierce it hurts, an unspeakably strong desire to live forever just to be able to witness, like Sagan himself writes, all those technological advances, the life and death of stars, the beginnings and the ends of everyday life and cosmic events. So perhaps this is what I was expecting when I picked up this book. Unfortunately, that is not what I got. But I am not going to say it out loud, because that would be like swearing in church.