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Review: The Big Book of Mars

The Big Book of Mars: From Ancient Egypt to The Martian, A Deep-Space Dive into Our Obsession with the Red Planet by Marc Hartzman
My rating: (4 / 5)


The Red Planet takes center stage in this entertaining, well researched, and fully illustrated pop history of Earthlings’ long relationship with Mars, and its impact on pop culture, space exploration, and our hopes for the future.

Mars has been a source of fascination and speculation ever since the Ancient Sumerians observed its blood-red hue and named it for their god of war and plague. But it wasn’t until 1877, when “canals” were observed on the surface of the Red Planet, suggesting the presence of water, that scientists, novelists, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs became obsessed with the question of whether there’s life on Mars. In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells suggested that we wouldn’t need to make contact with Martians–they’d come for us–while, many years later, Nikola Tesla claimed that he did make contact.

Since then, Mars has fully invaded pop culture. It has its own day of the week (Tuesday, or martis in Latin), candy bar, and iconic Looney Tunes character. It has been the subject of iconic novels and movies, from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles to Mars Attacks! to The Martian. And it has sparked a space-race feud between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who both hope to send a manned mission to Mars in the near future.

Filled with entertaining history, archival images, pop culture ephemera, and interviews with NASA scientists, The Big Book of Mars is the most comprehensive look at our relationship with Mars–yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Originally, I received an excerpt, but promptly proceeded to order the actual book once I started reading it. (The paper version itself is hefty and printed on thick glossy paper and smells good, and yes, I know, I like smelling my books.)

This book deals with how we have perceived Mars, currently and historically, whether in reality or in fiction works, starting with the Victorian period. It abunds in colourful illustrations, which makes its reading all the more pleasant – especially if you do that in little chunks rather than all at once (but really, “all at once” is very tempting, because it is definitely interesting). The style is fairly humoristic in places, making for an entertaining read on top of an informative one – perhaps even more information would’ve been good here? I can never get enough when it comes to Mars, I guess.

I couldn’t decide at first whether I liked the choice of going by theme rather than purely chronologically, but in the end, the “themed” approach worked well enough. The other way might have been too much of a catalogue of dates. Also, it makes it easier to come back to it later knowing roughly what I’m looking for (“fiction about Mars”, and so on) even if I’ve completely forgotten by then when exactly that “thing” happened.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable book, and a pretty one to boot.

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Review: The Big Book of Mars


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