Given the plethora of books on Mars, one could be forgiven for asking why anyone would want to write another one. The author of this new book answered that question by observing that: “Other Mars books spent one or two sentences summing up ancient beliefs about Mars” and, as a science historian, he felt this required his professional attention. The result is a text that avoids the usual ‘why go to Mars’ questions and concentrates on the ‘who?”: “Who cared about Mars in the past? Who cares about it today?” and “Who are we that we should go to Mars?”
He attempts to answers these often philosophical questions in six chapters from “Mars in the Medieval Imagination” to “Mars and the New Millennium”, backed up by 15 pages of chapter notes. The volume is illustrated with a 12-page colour insert and has a bibliography and an index.
The scope of the book will be familiar to many European readers who have grown up with stories of Aristotle, Ptolemy and the fiction of Dante’s Inferno. Likewise, the ‘canal’ story of Schiaparelli and Lowell in the “Modern Mars” chapter and the equally familiar Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, are well known to many. The following chapter on the Mariners, Viking and “Mars in the Popular Imagination” (Sagan, Chronicles, Total Recall…) compounds the impression that there is very little new in this book. And when it gets to NASA’s mantra of “follow the water”, one feels that this is simply a ‘tick-box exercise’.
One cannot criticise an individual for wanting to write a book on Mars and, more importantly, for actually getting it done. It takes a good deal of effort to research and write a book and, unless you have the contacts, an equivalent effort to get it published. But I wish the author of this one had spent a bit more of his research efforts on the existing literature - which is plentiful if not excessive - and produced something different.