Cosmos: A Recommended Reading List

The new series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson arrived last week. The follow-up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos: A Personal Journey is stunning and exciting. I am a big fan of space and everything else, even when my mind gets fatigued just thinking about how expansive and unknowable it all is. The outer space section of my high school physics class (a course which I did miserably in) was my favorite part. Because I had always done so poorly in science class, when I went to college and moaned over the required science credits I had to take. However, I was pleasantly surprised with my dinosaurs and evolution course (I think this had to do with the engaging professor I had and the subject matter).

The cosmos, the beginning of everything, multi-verses, and light years are just a few of the many facets that fascinate me about the “spacetime odyssey.” I am not alone with this fascination. Even in our fictions–whether it be film, TV, or writing–artists and writers imagine different worlds or alternate versions of our own, and we can’t get enough of it. Below are a few book recommendations that fall into the fiction category–books and stories to enjoy while awaiting the new episodes of Cosmos. Do you have any favorites to add? Has anyone else started watching this stellar documentary series?

**If you want some supplementary non-fiction nibbles, I recommend the PBS autobiographical documentary HawkingInto The Universe with Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos,’s article on Catholic priest Georges Lemaître, father of the Big Bang, or the marvelous gallery at the Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’s website.

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  1. Fascinating post and there are a couple of titles on your list that I haven’t read yet. Gotta check those out.

      1. Indeed, loving those pulpy covers! It’s a weakness of mine, collecting pulp fiction for the cover illustrations.If people look behind the hardbound modern firsts lining my shelves, there they’ll find my secret.

  2. Thanks for this recommended reading list.

    I watched the first episode with my young people Sunday night. Surprised it aired on Fox. I had borrowed the VHS format of the original series from the public library in the late 1990s but after the second tape, the VCR choked. Had to return the tapes to the library after finding out I was likely the umpteenth person to borrow the series. The VCR never worked again :o(

    Embarrassed to say that I saw the movie versions of more of these books than I read. Did you notice that the cover for Contact shows the movie poster with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey? For THAT I did read the book version and loved it as I was starting to read Carl Sagan’s work in 1996, sad that I had not “discovered” his work earlier, prior to his death.

    Although the screenplay for Contact was very different than the novel, I enjoyed the movie and have a copy in my favourites library. It has nothing of course to do with MM playing a “Man of the cloth … without the cloth.” :o)

    Recently the “We” book title has come up in another forum. I think I’ll add it to my reading list / pile.

    Thanks again!


    1. How disappointing! I’m pretty happy the days of VHS are gone (although, scratched DVDs are now the plague of libraries’ movie/tv section).

      It’s funny you bring up the Contact cover. I tried finding an interesting (maybe pulpy) one like the others, but couldn’t, so I went with the movie tie-in. I, too, liked the film!

      Definitely try ‘We.’ I always find early sci-fi writing particularly interesting. Also, another good starting place is Solaris–a personal favorite.

  3. Nice list. I’d thought about posting a pic of my Sagan library (or maybe my entire “astrophysics library” – admittedly only slighter larger) at Bibliophilopolis. I enjoyed the first episode and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

    I was also reminded this week of the old series (when noting the non-ending coverage of the missing jetliner – non-ending even though they have almost no info yet, and everything’s is speculation). Anyway, Sagan was talking about Venus and how earlier astronomers noted that nothing was visible and that it was essentially a smooth disk when seen through a telescope. They decided it must be cloud covered, and thus must be tropical and with lush vegetation, i.e., not unlike the era on earth when dinosaurs “ruled.” Sagan summarized their reasoning as: “Observation: I can’t see anything; Conclusion: Dinosaurs!”

    1. Oohh. You should definitely take a snapshot of the astrophysics library.

      That’s a great bit about the earlier astronomers’ hypothesis. It’s a good example of how with limited technology, etc. people were hypothesizing (yet still making mistakes) and how now we are able to see and verify what is actually happening and what has happened.

      I think the new Cosmos is great so far and can’t wait for the next episode. I think we still need even more of these types of shows. I didn’t get a chance to watch Big History when it was on TV, but I’m sure there are DVDs/online streaming. Also, the Hayden Planetarium, where Neil deGrasse Tyson works, is great if you get the chance to visit it.

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