David Harry Grinspoon - Venus Revealed

"There is no such thing as a controlled experiment for testing anything so grand as a theory of planetary evolution. I mean, what are we supposed to do--take one very large flask; add 600 trillion trillion grams of rock, metal, and ice; heat and stir well; and then let cool for 5 billion years and observe? And for a controlled experiment we would have to do this at least twice, carefully changing one variable each time. For now we must content ourselves with data from a few distant laboratories, and invent theories after the fact for ancient experiments beyond our design." - p. 196
Venus Revealed is an excellent introduction to planetary science. For those scratching their heads and wondering why they should be interested in planetary science, a quick read of the Prelude and the final few pages of the book will make you wishing you had become interested in the topic long ago.

The point Grinspoon really hammers home is that we have much to learn about ourselves by studying others. In the case of understanding our world, we need to study other planets to really understand Earth--its past, present, and possible futures. Consciousness breeds responsibility. There are varying degrees of consciousness. Grinspoon takes us on an enjoyable tour of the growing consciousness Homo sapiens have exhibited regarding Venus (and the universe as a whole) over the millennia with special emphasis on the discoveries from the past few decades of space exploration.

The prose is lively--especially for the first few chapters. Chapter 5 sometimes left me feeling like I was reading a travel book about a place I had never been to nor ever plan on visiting. Other than that stretch, however, the book is rarely dull. The author mixes in his brand of humor and wit throughout. I enjoyed the wisecracks incorporated as footnotes, but some may wish to skip them. My wife, for instance, found them to be 'geeky'.

I have a couple of minor complaints. The first is the complete lack of references. Someone interested in a particular aspect will find nowhere to turn to from the book. Studies, controversies, and opinions of others are briefly discussed, but without footnotes and/or a bibliography readers are left at a dead end without turning elsewhere. Where that elsewhere might be one can't find out here. Although the figures, drawings, and pictures are plentiful and useful (the ones on pages 13 & 14 is very clever too with the city being built in the foreground), several of the black and white photographs incorporated into the text (not the two inserts) are too dark and without detail. Luckily, some of these are also available in more detail and in a lighter shade on the internet (or at least they used to be).

Grinspoon didn't harp on the environmental problems Venus has that could become Earth's future as much as I expected. Perhaps he just touched on the issue because it has been discussed at length in so many other places. Global warming, acid rain, and depletion of the ozone layer are all 'features' of Venus. As these problems become increasingly severe here we are witnessing Earth's decreasing habitability. This gets back to the statement that consciousness breeds responsibility. Until the masses become more conscious, as a whole, we can't take the responsible steps necessary to insure that Earth doesn't become another Venus.

Those who appreciate this book will also like Blind Watchers of the Sky and vice versa.

"First let me say that I am a big fan of carbon-based life. Some of my best friends are carbon-based." - p. 303
from the publisher:
The first book for a general audience to reveal the breathtaking scientific results of the Magellan mission to Venus.

In this fascinating look at our closest planetary neighbor, David Grinspoon explains the incredible scientific advances made possible by the Magellan space probe. Long shrouded by an all-enveloping, impenetrable cloud, Venus has only recently, through exploration, been shown to be not the lush tropical swamp of Edgar Rice Burroughs's fantasies, but a scorching hell. Grinspoon examines the disturbing possibility that Venus was once very much like the Earth in terms of climate and habitability. He also raises the disturbing questions: Did a runaway greenhouse effect transform Venus into the burning oven she is today? By treating Venus as a "controlled experiment," what can we learn from her that will help us avoid a similar fate for the Earth?

David H. Grinspoon, an Assistant Professor of Astrophysical, Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, is a principal scientist on the Magellan mission to Venus. He has written science articles for The Sciences, The Planetary Report, and Encyclopedia of Planetary Sciences.