Mar's closest visit to the earth for a while may be over -- but while that reddish speck is still far brighter than usual, you might want to brush up on your Martian knowledge. Read on below for honestpuck's review of A Traveler's Guide To Mars.
With all the noise and kerfuffle about Mars recently I thought I should take a look at the Red Planet. I'm not well educated about astronomy, have to think hard to get the order of the planets right, but still wanted something with some depth. I found a great little guide for the uninformed visitor, "A Traveler's Guide to Mars" by William K Hartmann. This fairly inexpensive volume is full of all the information you're going to need, a large number of pictures, several maps and a great deal of information about previous voyagers to the planet. Indeed Hartmann was one of the scientists for the Mars Global Surveyor mission.
This book really does look like a typical traveler's guide with large print, bold headings, a good use of colour and text boxes. The style is light enough that when it gets scientific you don't notice too much. It is broken up into seven sections
- Introducing Mars: Past and Present.
- Noachian Mars: Exploring The Oldest Provinces
- Interlude: Landing on Mars
- Hesperian Mars: A Time of Transition
- Interlude: Rocks From Mars
- Amazonian Mars: The Red Planet Today
- Where Do We come From, Where Are We Going
The first section is a quick overview of the planet and a look at the history of Martian research. Section three looks at the various landings and what they discovered. Section five is a single chapter explaining the Martian meteors and what they might mean. Section seven is also small and looks at future Martian research. The other three sections look at the geography and geology of various parts of the Red Planet.
I found the whole book fascinating. I particularly liked the way Hartmann kept almost all his own tale in small sidebars called "My Martian Chronicles", 15 of them scattered through the book. These were interesting and meant that he could push his own barrow in a way that didn't intrude into the rest of the book, you could read them when you wanted. Throughout the book you get a huge amount of information about Mars and how the various bits were likely formed and what further exploration is likely to find.
All that said, it's not a book that can be taken in huge gulps. It took me several weeks to read it, picking it up and reading a few chapters then putting it down for a day or so, then perhaps another hour or two just looking at pictures, maps and reading sidebars. The layout does lend itself to this, however, so I'm not quite certain I'd call this a flaw, it seemed like a good way of making a 450 page book on Mars that much easier to digest. It also doesn't seem like a book that you need to read cover to cover, in order. I certainly didn't, reading bits about the meteors and landings and the last section before reading the section on Hesperian Mars.
The Workman Publishing web page on the book is not much use, with only a tiny excerpt from the book and while the book does have a selected reading list at the end it would have been nice to have a list of recommended web sites for further information as most of us don't have access to the sort of library likely to carry advanced astronomy journals or books.
If you're not an astronomy geek and want to know more about Mars then you may well find this book ideal. I certainly enjoyed my visit to the Red Planet.
You can purchase A Traveler's Guide To Mars from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.