The Big Book of Mars

Category: Nonfiction
Reviewed by: Ted Spitzmiller
Title: The Big Book of Mars
Author: Marc Hartzman
NSS Amazon link for this book
Format: Paperback/Kindle
Pages: 253
Publisher: Quirk Books
Date: July 2020
Retail Price: $24.99/$14.99
ISBN: 978-1683692096

Not another Mars book! While that might be a typical initial thought, this is not your ordinary “Mars” book. If you are looking for an in-depth analysis of past, present or upcoming Mars missions, this is not it. In five chapters, presented on thick glossy paper with an abundance of illustrations, Marc Hartzman describes an amazing array of facets of how Mars has found its way into so much of our culture over the last 140 years. So, if that aspect of Mars is of interest to you, you might find this book rather revealing.

Perhaps what makes even the absurd aspects of the history interesting is how the author provides a respectful presentation of the more illogical aspects without denigrating those who offered and those who believe in such schemes. But Hartzman keeps the reader on track with periodic updates of scientific knowledge of the Red Planet, based on the visits of our spacecraft.

All the big names in astronomy (Aristotle, Copernicus, Ptolemy, etc.) and their contributions to the early years are briefly covered as one might expect. In addition, a few obscure names emerge, such as Camille Flammarion — so prepare to have your horizons expanded a bit. The excitement over Schiaparelli’s canals, Percival Lowell’s follow-up reporting, and the somewhat surprising attempts to communicate with presumed Martians by Nikola Tesla are all ongoing periodic efforts to connect with the Martians into the 1920s.

Another noteworthy aspect is the inclusion of many newspaper articles that provide interesting reading, especially those that deal with possible physical characteristics of our planetary neighbor’s presumed inhabitants. At least one person involved in the foundation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had some connections to the occult, and space historians will recognize the names of Parsons, Foreman, and Malina. Frequent sidebars keep the reader informed of developments in related technology such as rocketry.

The 1965 Mariner 4 flyby that dispelled the presence of canals and subsequent visits by Viking 1 and 2 in 1976 are briefly covered. The Vikings attempted to determine if microbial life was present on Mars. But the results, which are nicely covered, were somewhat inconclusive. And yes, ALH 84001, the Martian meteor that fell to Earth, is included. The success of the flybys, orbiters, and landers was followed by the rovers beginning with Sojourner in 1997 and subsequent ventures into the 21st century are briefly summarized.

Chapter 3 returns us to the days of yesteryear and the efforts to communicate with the Martian inhabitants. It also examines psychics and spiritualism, which the author handles with sensitivity, but it’s clear that he has reservations. The UFO phenomena of the late 1940s, such as “the Roswell incident,” led to a plethora of books and movies about encounters with Martians. This is another area where Hartzman is kind to those who describe such encounters.

Chapter 4 takes us to the Martian invasion of Orson Welles’ infamous radio show. This led to many movies and comic strips such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and books relating to fictional accounts, including Ray Bradberry’s The Martian Chronicles. If there is a weakness in this book, the change in the chronology moves the reader backward in time on numerous occasions.

The final chapter illuminates recent planning such as the Mars One organization for human settlement. Dr. Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct proposal to colonize the Red Planet is analyzed. The reasoning behind several of these proposals is the desire to ensure the survival of the human race in the event of a chance encounter with an asteroid or an all-out nuclear war. Included here are the actions of those who could potentially self-fund the effort — Musk, Bezos, and Branson. Here, too, the more practical challenges are examined in building a civilization, conceivably by terraforming the planet. This chapter will leave the reader with some solemn thoughts to ponder.

© 2022 Ted Spitzmiller

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