The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

by Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Overview

The New York Times bestseller: "You gotta read this. It is the most exciting book about Pluto you will ever read in your life." —Jon Stewart


When the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History reclassified Pluto as an icy comet, the New York Times proclaimed on page one, "Pluto Not a Planet? Only in New York." Immediately, the public, professionals, and press were choosing sides over Pluto's planethood. Pluto is entrenched in our cultural and emotional view of the cosmos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, award-winning author and director of the Rose Center, is on a quest to discover why. He stood at the heart of the controversy over Pluto's demotion, and consequently Plutophiles have freely shared their opinions with him, including endless hate mail from third-graders. With his inimitable wit, Tyson delivers a minihistory of planets, describes the oversized characters of the people who study them, and recounts how America's favorite planet was ousted from the cosmic hub.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393350364
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 225,233
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, director of its world-famous Hayden Planetarium, host of the hit radio and TV show StarTalk, and the New York Times best-selling author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. He lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

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A witty cosmological narrative about a pint-sized planet that got "lost."

Pluto had a 76-year run as a planet, until it was demoted in August 2006. Though now relegated to "dwarf planet" status, this cosmological runt still maintains its huge fan base, especially in the United States. In fact, some American scientists continue to fight an uphill battle to get the celestial body reinstated, and recent straw polls show that Pluto remains the favorite planet among American elementary school students, perhaps because it shares its name with a cartoon character. Neil deGrasse Tyson's delightfully diverting The Pluto File tracks the weird history of this extraterrestrial underdog and its irrepressible popularity.

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The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
gewurztraminer More than 1 year ago
If you're afraid of a dry science-y book, put your fears aside. The Pluto Files is a glimpse behind the scenes of museums and other scientific institutions and how they deal with the public and the changing status of their chosen field. There's just enough straight science described so the reader can familiarize themselves with the topic. Nothing that can be handled by a high school student.

Dr. Tyson found himself, unintentionally, in the middle of the controversy over the continuing planethood of far away Pluto. While I think he is a bit biased about the actual popularity of tiny, icy rock, the machinations of his fellow scientists are what really make this book worth reading. "All My Children" has nothing on feuding astrophysicists!
John21713 More than 1 year ago
What a fun light read, full of interesting facts and trivia. The subject matter is literally very "far out". Dr. Tyson seems to have his feet on the ground, perhaps surprising for an astrophysicist, in his handling of the controversy surrounding the demotion of Pluto from its status as a planet. The Pluto Files is full of great old and new illustrations. I particularly enjoyed the photos of Clyde Tombaugh (at ages 22 and 90), Pluto's discoverer, and little Venetia Burney who suggested the name Pluto. The cartoons are great. It's one of those books, that although I tried to maintain a quiet demeanor, I found myself LOL while reading it on the train.
ariddolphin More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this book. It provides a history of all things Pluto and really explains the place Pluto has taken in society and amongst scholars alike. It discusses the discovery and reclassification of Pluto in an entertaining, easy-to-read fashion for people with a passing interest that doesn't undermine the education a more astronomy-minded person might have.
Calatelpe More than 1 year ago
Professional, clear, and jovial. Neil deGrasse Tyson gives a full and accurate history of the life of Pluto, from its discovery, to its current status as a Dwarf Planet. Within the book's pages are samples of letters he has received from the general public, ranging a wide range of human emotions (angry, rude, matter-of-fact, logical, lamenting, practical, etc). It's a fairly quick read, backed up by numerous appendices (which take up a larger portion of the book than I at first realized). Amid all the strong emotions (one way or the other) concerning the status of Pluto (and other Kuiper belt objects, of smaller, similar, and larger sizes, as well as some larger asteroids that have now become dwarf planets by definition), Neil never fails to remain jovial in his approach...even when anger (and outright foul language) is directed towards him personally.
Jvstin More than 1 year ago
Neil Degrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. (he serves as director). He's a columnist for Natural History magazine, and already has a book of essays, Death by Black Hole, to his credit. To lovers of the planet Pluto, however, he is a villain. Although it took a NY Times columnist a year to bring the change to light, the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, under Tyson, kept Pluto out of the display of the main sequence of planets, putting it with the Kuiper belt objects instead. In effect, Pluto had been "demoted". Once that article came out, however, the howls rose, and the IAU took up the question in full... In The Pluto Files, Tyson tells the full story of Pluto, and his part in its rise and fall. Tyson is not a self-aggrandizer, but he does have a central role in the drama and he fully documents his part in Pluto's story in the book. Along the way, he tells the story of Pluto's discovery, its debate among the IAU, and the ultimate designation given by the IAU. Plenty of digressions tie in the field of astronomy and astronomers, popular culture (including a certain Mouse's dog) and more. I've previously read Tyson's work in Death by Black Hole, and he keeps that easy, accessible style for his work here. He may not have the skill of the late Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan just yet, but those who only have a little science education should not be intimidated or put off by the subject. I, myself, learned a lot of what happened "behind the scenes" in the debate on Pluto, and found the book educational as well as a pleasure to read. The book is relatively short for the price, which is about the only major thing I can say against the book. Recommended.
lalawe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fun and quick read about Pluto and its demotion to dwarf planet. The book seems to teeter between humorous and scientific, so while there is some good information about "what is a planet?" and Kuiper belt objects, most of it feels overshadowed by the author's attempt to be funny.
co_coyote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a small book of only 175 pages, and a quick flip through its pages reveals pages of cartoons and a design that suggests the editor may have had only 100 pages of actual material. So I didn't expect to like this book very much. But, in fact, it was just the opposite; I liked this fun, interesting book a lot.Neil deGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium, whose Rose Center for Earth and Space inadvertently started the controversy over whether Pluto was a planet or not by leaving it out of one of its exhibits on the planets. This book is an interesting personal account of the science, politics, personalities, and conflicts that resulted in Pluto being officially named a "dwarf planet" by the International Astronomical Union in 2006. For scientists, it is an eye-opening look at how little science sometimes matters, and how important a role tradition, jingoism, personalities, and private agendas can play in a scientific endeavor. In the end, we don't really know if Pluto is a planet or not. We do know the Universe (and science in general) is stranger and more like roller derby than we usually like to admit.
tinLizzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've been smitten with Neil deGrasse Tyson for awhile now. I love astrophysics/cosmology as-is and have no need for it to be either sexified or dumbed-down to appeal to me.However - what Tyson is able to do that I appreciate (and that not many hard science authors are always good at) is to inject some humor and self-deprecation into the usually stodgy over-serious fields of astrophysics/cosmology, as well as making astrophysics relate-able and approachable to those who may not otherwise feel engaged by science. And the more traction and interest hard science gets in the mainstream gets a thumbs-up from me.Tyson cracks me up and engages my interest, without condescending or dumbing-down the science, and I very much enjoy his candor and passion.
Jvstin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Neil Degrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. (he serves as director). He's a columnist for Natural History magazine, and already has a book of essays, Death by Black Hole, to his credit.To lovers of the planet Pluto, however, he is a villain.Although it took a NY Times columnist a year to bring the change to light, the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, under Tyson, kept Pluto out of the display of the main sequence of planets, putting it with the Kuiper belt objects instead. In effect, Pluto had been "demoted".Once that article came out, however, the howls rose, and the IAU took up the question in full...In The Pluto Files, Tyson tells the full story of Pluto, and his part in its rise and fall.Tyson is not a self-aggrandizer, but he does have a central role in the drama and he fully documents his part in Pluto's story in the book. Along the way, he tells the story of Pluto's discovery, its debate among the IAU, and the ultimate designation given by the IAU. Plenty of digressions tie in the field of astronomy and astronomers, popular culture (including a certain Mouse's dog) and more. I've previously read Tyson's work in Death by Black Hole, and he keeps that easy, accessible style for his work here. He may not have the skill of the late Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan just yet, but those who only have a little science education should not be intimidated or put off by the subject. I, myself, learned a lot of what happened "behind the scenes" in the debate on Pluto, and found the book educational as well as a pleasure to read. The book is relatively short for the price, which is about the only major thing I can say against the book.Recommended.
corrmorr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a fascinating story. It is a delightful lesson in iconography in addition to the interesting astronomy. I laughed out loud as I read the letters from school children and the California resolution about Pluto. Tyson makes science fun as he teaches many lessons.
dougcornelius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The identification of Pluto as the ninth planet was an accident.For millennia, humans thought there were five planets. The ancient Greeks saw the ¿moving stars¿ of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Eventually we realized that Earth was a sixth, orbiting around the sun.As we got better with telescopes, Sir William Herschel announced the discovery of Uranus on March 13, 1781. That was the first planet discovered with a telescope. As astronomers measured the orbit of Uranus, they found irregularities in its orbit and reached the conclusion that there must be another unseen planet in our solar system exerting its gravitational force on Uranus.After grinding out the calculations on the orbit of Uranus, astronomers were able to calculate the location of Neptune in the night sky. Sure enough, Johann Galle observed that ¿moving star¿ within a degree of the position predicted by Urbain Le Verrier.Some astronomers also found an irregularity in the orbit of Neptune and concluded that there must be a Planet X beyond the orbit of Neptune. Percival Lowell took on that search. It turns out that there was a bad data point mixed in with the observations of Neptune¿s orbit. They also had the wrong mass of Neptune. Planet X was a miscalculation. Astronomers at the Lowell Observatory were so focused on finding Planet X that they assumed that Pluto must be a planet.The trouble started when technology improved and we could start seeing many more objects orbiting the sun. Neil de Grasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium was labeled as the first mainstream trouble-maker. He lumped together the four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. He lumped together the four gas giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. That left Pluto out in the cold with the hundreds of other Kuiper Belt objects. He pointed out that if Pluto were as close to the Sun as Earth, Pluto would have a tail and look like a jumbo comet.Pluto Files shares his story and the story of Pluto.
tlockney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I waffled on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars (and I keep waffling as I write this). Honestly, the book is very entertaining and full of interesting info, yet the majority of it seems to be about the near soap opera like debate about Pluto's standing as planet and the furor that erupted based on a simple action (or lack of action, in some sense) by the designers/planners of the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan. Tyson was a central figure in this with his role as director of the planetarium. This book is definitely worth picking up for a quick, enjoyable read if you're interested in planetary science, astronomy or just the politics and public perception of science.
NielsenGW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tyson, Neil DeGrasse. The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America¿s Favorite Planet. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 176 pp. $23.95.Neil DeGrasse Tyson¿s Pluto Files claims to chronicle the history of the ¿planet¿ Pluto and it mostly accomplishes this feat. His history of the discovery of the last planet is a little thin, but there may not be much more to tell. Clyde Tombaugh discovered it while chasing Percival Lowell¿s dream of a distant Planet X. Clyde¿s find wound its way into the hearts and minds of many a schoolchild, but now there is a debate raging as to whether Pluto is really a planet at all. The bulk of Tyson¿s story in confined to the last decade, when his new post as Director of Hayden Planetarium put him in charge of a new addition to the building. He decided, with the help of other scientists and a public panel on Pluto, to group planets into distinct characteristic groups: Terrestrial Planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), Gas Giant (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus) and Kuiper Belt Objects (Pluto included). Then all hell broke loose. The Museum, a trusted institution, had neglected to count Pluto in the number of planets that everyone had grown up learning about. The debate included almost every astrophysicist alive, the International Astromonical Union, and even third-graders. In the end, the Tyson¿s treatise is more about the definition of the word ¿planet¿ than the question surrounding the properties of Pluto. And while the IAU has formally created a definition, most of the scientists involved are more concerned about cataloging the properties and new knowledge about Pluto than about what to call it.All in all, the prose is succinct and even humorous at times. There are lengthy discussions and back-and-forth, bringing the opinions of many major astronomers (including Bill Nye the Science Guy). At times, the constant quotations can get a little cumbersome, causing the flow of the text to be interrupted, but Tyson competently balances the scientific questions with his own experience in the debate. There are moment, however, when his discussion of his involvement in the uproar seems more like a diatribe on his mistreatment by the press and the scientific community. One might assume (and rightly so) that Tyson was trying to get the final word in on the whole hoopla. I would have liked to see more celestial diagrams and less political cartoons. An interesting addition to the text are three appendices devoted to the lyrics of songs directed concerned with the status of Pluto (as if one song wasn¿t enough).This book would be appropriate for beginners to get a quick background on the debate or amateur lovers of astronomy.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Science WarsThis is a wonderfully written and illustrated book by one of the funniest guys, Neil deGrasse Tyson. At the heart of "The Pluto Files" is the cultural struggle of what Pluto means to Americans. It's an important book because it shows how issues of science can become politicized.The illustrations are really what make the book special. Some great photographs, cartoons, and the actual letters sent by grade-schoolers are fascinating to read. Tyson's writing is quite readable and he sprinkles in a few relevant anecdotes here and there to spice things up. Overall, this is a fun little book to pick up if you're looking for something different, something cheery to fill up an afternoon or two.
daguelibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a quick read on whether Pluto is a planet or not. We learn little about Pluto from a scientific standpoint, but much about the controversy of its recent demotion from Planet to Dwarf Planet. It is a short witty story, but flawed by the author¿s penchant for talking too much about himself, and posing for pictures which he inserts into this little volume. After Tyson omitted Pluto from the main exhibit area of the Hayden Planetarium for which he is the director, he was deluged with e-mails and letters he received from people with strong opinions on the subject. The author clearly relishes all of the attention he got, and the mail pro and con on his controversial action. He publishes for the reader dozens of these messages. After the International Astronomical Union voted to pull the planet classification from what we have all called the ninth planet since its discovery, Tyson¿s mailbox is again filled with messages from supporters and detractors. His correspondents range from grade school students to professional astronomers, and we are subjected to them all. This book is a bit like pounding through a tiresome thread of unedited e-mails, and indeed it contains quite a few of those. It is amusing and delightful in parts, but it bogs down before the end. The book gets only two stars from me. The topic holds so much promise, and yet is sadly marred by the author¿s obsession with being the Pluto controversy celebrity, rather then just telling us the story. Is the story about Pluto, or is it about Tyson? After reading this, it is hard to say.
rastaphrog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pluto has risen in stature from an "unknown" to being a major planet and fallen to being a "dwarf planet". This book chronicles the search for it by some astronomers, it's discovery, and the part it played in furthering our understanding of our solar system.Well written, this book explains in terms the "layman" can understand not only the search for the elusive "Planet X", but how the search, discovery, and then further study of our solar system has changed how we think about things. While an individual may not agree with the "downgrading" of Plutos status, it gives a reasoned and well explained discussion of the thought that went into it. As we discover from reading, this isn't the first time science has changed how a celestial object is classified and what we call it.This is an excellent book to give someone some basics in astronomy, astronomical "thought", and as a starting point to lead to further study if one is so inclined.
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Neil deGrasse Tyson spends the first third or so of this short book discussing Pluto's place in popular culture, the history of its discovery, and its physical properties, with the rest of the volume devoted to addressing the controversy over Pluto's demotion from planetary status, his own role in said controversy, and various reactions to that decision from scientists, the media, and the general public. It's arguable that this involves paying way too much attention to what is essentially a meaningless debate about nomenclature, but of course, you could say the same about the whole media storm in the first place. Well, what the heck. Tyson manages to makes the whole thing clear, entertaining, accessible, and very frequently amusing, and in the end he gets across the important point that understanding the solar system in all its messy, hard-to-categorize glory actually has very little to do with the question of how many planetary names you ought to memorize at all.
juliayoung on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, so I was thrilled to get this as my Early Reviewer book. It has humor mixed with quality astronomical science, which made it a delight to read.
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Pluto Files is, if nothing else, a decent layman's intro into the controversy about Pluto's status and why it all matters (or doesn't). There's plenty in it on the current thinking about what a planet is, and how to best represent the different objects in our solar system. Mostly, though, the book's about Neil Degrasse Tyson and his experiences with the aftermath of a decision to take a new approach to presenting the solar system at the planetarium he leads. When America goes ape over the change in the planetary definition by the IAU (really, an attempt to actually create a definition of planet) that changes Pluto's "status", he and his organization again bear the brunt of the public's displeasure.As such, it's an interesting sociological story. After all, Pluto doesn't know or care whether it's a planet or not. So really, this story is about us and how we like to understand the universe by putting things into neat boxes. And when more research seems to require a rearrangement of the boxes, how we react to the change.My only complaint about the book is that (i) it's fairly heavily Tyson-centric, (ii) Tyson occasionally quotes clearly tongue-in-cheek emails and letters he's received as serious, and (iii) the book gets a bit repetitive in spots. These negatives shouldn't necessarily cause one to avoid the book, but did diminish my enjoyment of the book a bit.
DSeanW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My second Neil deGrasse Tyson book and my last, he has an easy writing style but there isn't much meat to his content, all fluff. Perhaps more geared for middle school students needing to do a book report. My main takeaway from this book is that I really do not care what school children wrote to him about Pluto.How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown is a much better look at the rise and fall of Pluto.
tcrutch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this quick read, Tyson describes the hilarious backlash that occurred when Pluto lost its planetary status. It is charming yet elementary. Nonetheless, I wish I had this book years ago when I had to write a paper arguing for or against Pluto being demoted!
dberryfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun little book about Pluto's demotion to dwarf planet status. He spends a little too much time discussing himself, but I guess that works out all right, since he's the one that kicked all the hubbub off.
phyllis01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a terrific little book that gives a quick but thorough history of how Pluto was discovered, given planet status, and then demoted. Tyson is one of those brilliant people who is able to distill his smarts down to us math/science impaired folks in a non-intimidating way. He doesn't shy away from poking fun at himself due to the 'Pluto' controversy. The best part are the letters from schoolchildren both chiding him for his stance and expressing empathy for all the mean letters he has received.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sapphirestar pads into the den carrying the kit and glances over where Velvetsnow and Missingmoon are resting. They seem to be sleep so she heads to the back where she won't be overheard and the kit won't disturb them. "Flightpath," she says quietly, "she has had a bad cough and needs this wound dressed." The tabby sets her down and gestures to a long claw mark across the kits shoulder. "I...I will be able to feed her." She says quietly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. Tyson does a good job explaining how the whole Pluto "demotion" came about. Its not just a dry science book, it lets you in the whole story while still explaining the facts.