The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet
© 2009 Neil deGrasse Tyson
Ordinary citizens don’t take an interest in the fine details of scientific debate, any more than they would the fine details of debates at urban planning conferences. And yet, when the International Astronomical Union created a formal definition for “Planet” which happened to exclude Pluto, people lost their minds. Astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson was on the front lines in 2006 of the furor, receiving thousands of letters from indignant adults and despondent children. Tyson had been the object of particular abuse because in previous years, when he began as director of the Hayden Planetarium, he inaugurated a new museum with an exhibit on the scales of the universe which did not include Pluto. In The Pluto Files, he delivers a history of Pluto’s discovery and cultural legacy, even after its demotion. Part science, part history, and part memory, the work is a tribute to a little place with an outside importance to people’s affection, and our growing understanding of the solar system. Although those looking for a detailed history of Pluto’s demotion would be better served by How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming, Tyson’s book works perfectly fine as the elevator version, and is arguably worth encountering just for the cultural aspects. I had no idea that a Holst scholar had written an addition to The Planets suite, called “Pluto the Renewer”, for instance. Although most of Tyson’s excerpts are of scientific debate, the included letters written by those demanding Tyson single-handedly restore Pluto to the planetary python are amusing and charming in their own rights.