Foreword Reviews

Venus

William Sheehan and Sanjay Shridhar Limaye’s Venus is a comprehensive introduction to historical and current research into Venus, as well as its representations in popular culture.

Apart from the Moon, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky. The book notes that its topography includes 80% “smooth, volcanic plains” and Himalaya-like mountains. Observing the planet and mapping its surface is challenging because of its “impenetrable canopy” of clouds, plus high heat and pressure. For these reasons, Venus has long “been generally regarded as the epitome of inhospitability.”

But even premodern civilizations were fascinated by Venus, Sheehan and Limaye note: observations of it were recorded by the Aztecs, Babylonians, and Sumer–Akkadians. And the planet has long been a touch point in legends and poetry (Sappho addressed it as “the herdsman of evening”). It influenced the ancient Egyptian calendar. Sheehan and Limaye weave such fascinating cultural details into their mesh of history and science.

The book’s timeline of Venusian investigation is a brisk who’s who of astronomers, from Galileo to Carl Sagan. Venus’s transits were considered key to measuring the distance to the Sun. In the 1950s, new military technologies precipitated key breakthroughs and enhanced knowledge of the planet. The book covers multiple missions to the planet in recent decades, too, including Mariner 2 in 1962, and the Soviet VeGa probes in the 1980s.

The book also reveals that confirmation bias is a recurring feature in Venusian research, and that expecting it to be Earthlike is a mistake—its differences outweigh its similarities. To consider the planet only in comparison to Earth is, Sheehan and Limaye insist, “one of the most hubristic efforts in the history of science.” They counsel humility in the face of Venus’s ongoing mysteries.

Venus is a passionate and thorough planetary primer for armchair stargazers.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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