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A Supersized View of the Universe

Fenella Saunders

Click to Enlarge ImageThe universe we live in is mind-bendingly enormous, and it can be hard to convey a sense of that vastness on the printed page. But Michael Benson makes a spirited attempt in Planetfall: New Solar System Visions (Abrams, $55), an oversized book with pages 15 inches wide and 12 inches tall—so large that it’s almost unwieldy to flip through the pages. Two 30-inch, four-page gatefolds and one 60-inch, 8-page gatefold up the ante on the size of the window through which readers can experience the images. And the photographs are definitely front and center: The majority of the book contains pictures completely unadorned by text, with captions sequestered in a section at the back. The images focus on our solar system, with views of the Earth and Moon, the Sun, Mars, asteroids and comets, Jupiter and Saturn. The entire volume is stunningly visual, but perhaps the most impressive imaging is that of the Sun, showing its roiling convection in textures reminiscent of brushstrokes in an Impressionist painting. (The image at right shows the solar corona during an eclipse of the Sun by the Earth.) Benson’s short introductions to the book’s six sections convey information, anecdotes, connections with ancient history and, perhaps most prominently, his simultaneous chiding of humanity for the shortsightedness he feels is evident in the treatment Earth receives and his hope that our species will learn to see more clearly.

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