Cosmos (book)

Cosmos (book)
Cosmos book.gif
(front cover)
Author(s) Carl Sagan
Cover artist Adolf Schaller
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Popular science
Publisher Random House, New York
Publication date 1980
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 365
ISBN 0-394-50294-9
OCLC Number 6280573
Dewey Decimal 520
LC Classification QB44.2 .S235
Preceded by Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science
Followed by Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Cosmos (1980) is a popular science book by astronomer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sagan. Its 13 illustrated chapters, corresponding to the 13 episodes of the Cosmos TV series on which the book was based, explore the mutual development of science and civilization. Spurred in part by the popularity of the TV series, Cosmos spent 50 weeks on the Publishers Weekly best-sellers list and 70 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list to become the best-selling science book ever published at the time. In 1981, it received the Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book. The book's unprecedented success ushered in a dramatic increase in visibility for science-themed literature. The sequel to Cosmos is Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994).[1]



Cosmos has 13 heavily illustrated chapters, corresponding to the 13 episodes of the Cosmos television series.[2] In the book, Sagan explores 15 billion years of cosmic evolution and the development of science and civilization.[3] Cosmos traces the origins of knowledge and the scientific method, mixing science and philosophy, and speculates to the future of science.[4] The book also discusses the underlying premises of science by providing biographical anecdotes about many prominent scientists throughout history, placing their contributions into the broader context of the development of modern science.[5] Cornell News Service characterized the book as "an overview of how science and civilization grew up together."[6]

The book covers a broad range of topics, comprising Sagan's reflections on anthropological, cosmological, biological, historical, and astronomical matters from antiquity to contemporary times. Sagan reiterates his position on extraterrestrial life—that the magnitude of the universe permits the existence of thousands of alien civilizations, but no credible evidence exists to demonstrate that such life has ever visited earth.[7]


Cosmos utilizes a light, conversational tone to render complex scientific topics readable for a lay audience. On many topics, the book encompasses a more concise, refined presentation of previous ideas about which Sagan had written.[7] One critic characterized the book as containing religious rhetoric in its descriptions of science and the universe.[5]

Critical reception

In The New York Times Book Review, novelist James Michener praised Cosmos as "a cleverly written, imaginatively illustrated summary of [Sagan's]... ruminations about our universe... His style is iridescent, with lights flashing upon unexpected juxtapositions of thought."[8] David Whitehouse of the British Broadcasting Corporation proclaimed "there is not a book on astronomy – in fact not one on science – that comes close to the eloquence and intellectual sweep of Cosmos... If we send just one book to grace the libraries of distant worlds..., let it be Cosmos."[9] Kirkus Reviews described the book as "Sagan at his best."[10] In 1981, Cosmos received the Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book.[11]


Cosmos became the best-selling science book ever published in the English language.[12][13][14][15] It was only surpassed in the late 1980s by Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time.[16] Though spurred in part by the popularity of the television series, Cosmos became a best-seller by itself.[17] Cosmos spent 50 weeks on the Publishers Weekly best-seller's list,[6] where it became the first science book to sell more than half a million copies.[18] The book also spent 70 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.[19] Cosmos sold more than 900,000 copies while on the best sellers list and continued to sell well for years later,[20] selling around five million copies internationally.[21] Shortly after Cosmos was published, Sagan received a $2 million advance for the novel Contact.[22] This was the largest release given for an unwritten fiction book at the time.[18] The success of Cosmos made Sagan "wealthy as well as famous."[23] It also ushered in a dramatic increase in visibility for science books.[20] Science historian Bruce Lewenstein of Cornell University noted that among science books "Cosmos marked the moment that something different was clearly going on."[17]

Lewenstein also noted the power of the book as a recruitment tool. Along with Microbe Hunters and The Double Helix, he described Cosmos as one of the "books that people cite as 'Hey, the reason I'm a scientist is because I read that book'."[17] Particularly in astronomy and physics, he said, the book inspired many people to become scientists.[22]

See also

Bibliographical information


  1. ^ "Pale Blue Dot". Powell's Books. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  2. ^ "Cosmos: Bibliographical Data". Book Depository. The Book Depository International Ltd. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  3. ^ "Cosmos: Full Description". Book Depository. The Book Depository International Ltd. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  4. ^ "Cosmos: About this Edition". Borders. Borders, Inc. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Lessel, Thomas (May 1985). "Science and the Sacred Cosmos: The Ideological Rhetoric of Carl Sagan.". Quarterly Journal of Speech 71 (2): 175–187. 
  6. ^ a b Brand, David; Blaine P. Friedlander, Jr (2001-02-19). "From somber Silent Spring to creative Cosmos, author's style can make difference in selling science, says Cornell researche". Cornell News (Cornell University). Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Michener, James (25 January 1981). "Ten Million Civilizations Nearby". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2011. 
  8. ^ Dicke, William (1996-12-21). "Carl Sagan, an Astronomer Who Excelled at Popularizing Science, Is Dead at 62". New York Times. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  9. ^ Whitehouse, David (1999-10-15). "Sci/Tech Carl Sagan: A life in the cosmos". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  10. ^ "Reviews". Kirkus Book Review. DC Public Library. 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  11. ^ "Cosmos". Goodreads. 2002-05-07. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  12. ^ "Carl Sagan to lecture at Stanford April 23". Stanford News Service (Standford University). 2012-04-04. Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  13. ^ "Carl Sagan: Founder and First President of The Planetary Society". The Planetary Society. Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  14. ^ Garreau, Joel (2003-07-21). "Science's Mything Links As the Boundaries of Reality Expand, Our Thinking Seems to Be Going Over the Edge". Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  15. ^ "Meet Dr. Carl Sagan". The Science Channel. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  16. ^ Shermer p. 490
  17. ^ a b c Lewenstein, Bruce (2002-03-08). "How Science Books Drive Public Discussion". National Institute for Standards and Technology. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  18. ^ a b "Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding". National Science Foundation. 2004. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  19. ^ Brand, David (1996-12-20). "Carl Sagan, Cornell astronomer, dies today (Dec. 20) in Seattle". Cornell News (Cornell University). Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  20. ^ a b Nord, David; Joan Shelley Rubin (2009). "Science Books Since 1945". A History of the Book in America: Volume 5: The Enduring Book: Print Culture. Michael Schudson. UNC Press. pp. 357. ISBN 9780807832851. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  21. ^ Ruprecht, Louis (1996). "Book Reviews". Journal of the American Academy of Religion (Oxford Journals) LXIV (2): 459–464. ISSN 1477-4585. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  22. ^ a b Lewenstein, Bruce (2007-03). "Why should we care about science books?". Journal of Science Communication (International School for Advanced Studies) 6 (1). ISSN 1824–2049. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  23. ^ Morrison, David (2007). Man for the Cosmos: Carl Sagan's Life and Legacy as Scientist, Teacher, and Skeptic. Skeptical Inquirer January/February, 31(1), pp. 29-38.

Further reading

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