The Pluto Files, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (18 February)

Yes, yes, I saw this guy on the Daily Show and wanted to read his book. Depressing, but true. Good work, Stewart!

The book is subtitled “The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet,” which is pretty apt. I mean, I am in a Facebook group called “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.”

And it’s interesting… I didn’t know much about how Pluto obtained planet-hood, and I wasn’t sure what caused the recent demotion, so it was nice to learn about that. And I mostly liked the fact that Tyson wrote about his personal fight against the Pluto proponents who felt he was slighting that poor ice ball. He includes e-mails from scientists and letters from children telling him how mean he’s being to Pluto and why he should bring it back. It’s a good time.

But I almost didn’t finish it because of the first few chapters, where Tyson attempts to make a case that people like Pluto because it shares its name with Mickey Mouse’s dog. Maybe, but he doesn’t back up that opinion with very much fact at all, and it comes off sounding kind of childish. So does the fact that he takes credit for the mnemonic “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” And the fact that he name-drops hanging out with Bill Nye the Science Guy (R) at a New Horizons launch party. Totally unnecessary.

Luckily, the rest of the book is well-reasoned and full of citations. It also includes a kid’s drawing of Pluto, and that’s just cute. 🙂

Rating: 6/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

5 thoughts on “The Pluto Files, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (18 February)

  1. Laurel Kornfeld says:

    I’m a strong supporter of Pluto’s reinstatement as a planet, being that it is not an “iceball” but an object large enough to be spherical. This means it is in a state of hydrostatic equilibrium, a characteristic of planets and not asteroids, in which its shape is determined by gravity and not chemical bonds.That said, I agree with you, having read the book, that people’s attachment to Pluto is not due to the Disney dog. Most Pluto supporters are people who already have an interest in astronomy and the solar system. Many view the solar system as a family and rightfully see something wrong in removing one of the family members.What Tyson leaves out is that the IAU definition states that dwarf planets are not planets at all. If that provision is reversed, and dwarf planets are added as a subclass of planets (in addition to terrestrial planets, gas giants, ice giants, etc.), much of this controversy would be resolved.You can read more about the pro Pluto as a planet position on my blog at

  2. Laurel Kornfeld says:

    Pluto is still very much a planet. It’s just that some astronomers argue otherwise. However, such debates over Pluto’s status are not new; they have been around almost since its discovery.

  3. Alison says:

    I’m of the camp that says, “Who cares what it’s called?” If the Earth were, for one reason or another, downgraded from planet, I would still be living on Earth and breathing air, yes? Classification systems are inherently flawed, simply because there are so many different ways to classify.Laurel, would you say that we should instead include other objects like Ceres, Charon, Eris, et al to our list of planets or that we should simply stick with the nine we have?

  4. Laurel Kornfeld says:

    Alison, yes, I believe we should include spherical objects such as Ceres, Charon, Eris, etc. as planets since I am using the criterion of hydrostatic equilibrium and directly orbiting the sun as the defining characteristics of planethood. Since these are small spherical objects not gravitationally dominant in their orbits, I’m fine with calling them dwarf planets, as long as dwarf planets are included as a subclass of planets (the same way dwarf stars are still considered stars, and dwarf galaxies are still considered galaxies).

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