Book Review: The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet

by Rudolf Lamy
Cataloguer & Research Librarian
Maryland State Law Library

“The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet”
by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

W.W. Norton & Company (Reprint edition: December 2009)
Nonfiction / Astronomy

Pluto: is it really a planet, a dwarf planet, or a plutoid?

This is the story of how our solar system first found, and then later lost, its 9th planet.  The story of Pluto’s rise and fall is told with intelligence and humor.   The author provides many amazing details about all the planets.  But the story of the demotion of Pluto from planet to object, and the controversy that accompanied that demotion, is just astonishing. The book even includes the lyrics from songs and annotated hate mail from 6th graders!

Dr DeGrasse Tyson first takes us through the planning, building, and furnishing of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium.  Then he describes the effort that went into the design of the displays – one of which inadvertently pushed Pluto into its fall from grace.

Dr. Tyson is a terrific educator, and it shows in this light-hearted primer on our solar system in general and on Pluto in particular.  Dr. Tyson’s book is meant to be popular science rather than a text book, and it succeeds remarkably well at both the “popular” and the “science” aspects.  Casual readers will learn more about Pluto than they ever thought there was to learn.  The book also presents a good look behind the scenes at the disposition of academic controversies.

Even if you do not normally read nonfiction, this is a book that you can easily enjoy.  This book is an educational opportunity, a quick and enjoyable read, and a barrel of laughs.

As to Pluto’s planetary status, read the book and make your own judgment.