Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Tag: astronomy

523: The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson


523.4922: Tyson, Neil deGrasse. The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 176 pp. ISBN

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 520: Astronomy
  • 523: Specific celestial bodies and phenomena
  • 523.4: Planets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects of the Solar system
  • 523.49: Trans-Neptunian objects
  • 523.492: Kuiper belt objects
  • 523.4922: Pluto

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Pluto Files claims to chronicle the history of the “planet” Pluto and it mostly accomplishes this feat. His history of the discovery of the last planet is a little thin, but there may not be much more to tell. Clyde Tombaugh discovered it while chasing Percival Lowell’s dream of a distant Planet X. Clyde’s find wound its way into the hearts and minds of many a schoolchild, but now there is a debate raging as to whether Pluto is really a planet at all. The bulk of Tyson’s story in confined to the last decade, when his new post as Director of Hayden Planetarium put him in charge of a new addition to the building. He decided, with the help of other scientists and a public panel on Pluto, to group planets into distinct characteristic groups: Terrestrial Planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), Gas Giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus) and Kuiper Belt Objects (Pluto included). Then all hell broke loose. The Museum, a trusted institution, had neglected to count Pluto in the number of planets that everyone had grown up learning about. The debate included almost every astrophysicist alive, the International Astronomical Union, and even third-graders. In the end, the Tyson’s treatise is more about the definition of the word “planet” than the question surrounding the properties of Pluto. And while the IAU has formally created a definition, most of the scientists involved are more concerned about cataloging the properties and new knowledge about Pluto than about what to call it.

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522: Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson


522.0904: Johnson, George. Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Forgotten Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe. New York: Atlas, Books, 2005. 130 pp. ISBN 0-393-05128-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 520: Astronomy and allied sciences
  • 522: Techniques, procedures, apparatus, equipment, and materials
  • +0904: 20th Century

In the early days of the 20th century, astronomy was tedious and manual. To understand what was out in the heavens, scientists used photographic plates attached to telescopes, exposed them to the night sky, and then pored over the resulting images to catalog new stars and nebulae. The sadder part of this endeavor is that the cataloging of celestial bodies on photo plates was seen as menial labor and left for groups of “human computers” to do. These groups usually consisted of brilliant women who were terrific at mathematics and physics, but were hired for dimes on the dollar simply because of their gender. George Johnson’s Miss Leavitt’s Stars is the tale of one computer who went on make a revolutionary discovery that changed the way we view the universe.

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520: The Story of Astronomy by Peter Aughton


520: Aughton, Peter. The Story of Astronomy: From Babylonian Stargazers to the Search for the Big Bang. London: Quercus, 2008. 217 pp. ISBN 978-1-84724-186-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 520: Astronomy and allied sciences

In preparation for Super Bowl XLVII tonight, I read something that had absolutely nothing to do with Super Bowl XVLII. Everyone’s looking for a tie-in today, but I don’t have one. My interest in televised sporting events and my interest in books are 99.9% separate (the exception will be Dewey section 796, which is the section for sports). No, folks, today’s book is an in-depth look at the Earth, the stars, and the surrounding cosmos: Peter Aughton’s Story of Astronomy.

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999: Other Worlds by Michael Lemonick

999: Lemonick, Michael D. Other Worlds: The Search for Life in the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. 255 pp. ISBN 0-684-83294-1.

At the very, very, very end of the Dewey Decimal Classification, you will find 999. The 900s are history and geography, and the 990s include history of other parts of the world. Normally, this would mean history of Australia and tiny island nations, but the last section—section 999—is reserved for the history of extraterrestrial worlds.

The only problem with writing about the history of extraterrestrial worlds is we have neither met any organism from another planet nor received any transmission from another planetary system. So, Michael Lemonick’s Other Worlds focuses on how Earth’s inhabitants are trying to find planets outside the Solar System.

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529: Calendar by David Ewing Duncan

529.3: Duncan, David Ewing. Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year. New York: Avon, 1998. 241 pp. ISBN 0-380-97528-9.

529 is a curious section in the DDC. 520s are astronomy, but the last section in the division–529–is classed as chronology. This is because for many millennia, cultures have counted their days and nights by the sun and the stars. Long before electric wristwatches and atomic clocks, the hours of the day were tolled out by bell towers and sun sightings.

While Gould’s book (here) was superficial and condescending, David E. Duncan’s Calendar is vast and learned. You can tell just from the first chapter that the author consulted as many sources as is possible for this book. His goal is to track the evolution of the modern 12-month, 365-day (or 366) from its earliest form to the present. Along the way, he weaves a thread through Cro-Magnon bone carvers, Egyptian pharoahs, Indian mathematicians, and Catholic philosophers.

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