Mapping Mars Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World

Oliver Morton




Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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A Discover Magazine Best Science Book
Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award

How can you make sense of a world where no one has ever lived or breathed? Acclaimed science writer Oliver Morton tells the story of the heroic landscapes of Mars, now better mapped in some ways than the Earth itself. Mapping Mars introduces the reader to the nineteenth-century visionaries and spy-satellite pioneers, the petroleum geologists and science fiction writers, the artists and Arctic explorers who have devoted themselves to the discovery of Mars. In doing so they have given a new world to the human imagination, a setting for our next great adventure.

Mapping Mars takes us to the most beguiling landscape in the solar system and lays out what it may come to mean to us.


Praise for Mapping Mars

"I couldn't stop reading this book! Fascinating, truly fascinating."—Douglas Preston, author of Dinosaur in the Attic and The Cabinet of Curiosities

"Mapping Mars is a brilliant, sustained achievement which present not just our changing representation of mars, but the developing map of humanity's consciousness through science, technology, culture, and art. Oliver Morton is a superb writer who has made a specialist subject enthralling and universal."—Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting

"There is much to recommend this book. The author has an encyclopedic grasp of the development of major discoveries of mars science, and he summaries them in a very understandable way . . . And, I must confess, I am frankly envious of his engaging prose. This book will delight anyone interested in the exploration of the planet next door."—American Scientist

"Morton captures the revolutions in thought that come from envisioning another world and comparing it with our own."—The Dallas Morning News

"A beautifully intelligent meditation on the paradoxes of place."—Evening Standard

"Compelling . . . evocative . . . Morton's prose is like Earth: humid, rich, swirling, alive."—The Boston Globe

"Oliver Morton's approach to writing is both unique and interesting . . . The amount of research that has gone into the book is astonishing . . . One of the more surprising aspects of Mapping Mars, considering its lavish style, is the level of detail and understanding of the scientific ideas, which are presented in a realistic and accessible manner . . . There is something in this book for everyone, from the educated lay person to experienced Mars scientists, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It is quite simply one of the most enjoyable works of non-fiction I have ever read. "—Karl L. Mitchell, A&G

i0"If you are, like me, curious about Mars, then you will be enthralled by Oliver Morton's wonderfully readable and authoritative Mapping Mars. This book is a landmark in the history of space exploration; it is meticulously researched yet it is a most human book free of biased science and hype—a space flight in first class prose. Oliver Morton maps the legends, the history, and the personalities onto the contemporary exploration of Mars by instruments. It is a tale of adversity, failure and triumph as the explorers endure vicariously the pain and peril of their robot craft as they map that most awful of all deserts."—Jim Lovelock, author of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

"Mapping Mars is a wonderful work of intellectual history and a permanent addition to the Mars bookshelf."—Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Mars Series and The Years of Rice and Salt

"When the first global map of Mars was produced from Mariner 9 pictures, the names of features christened by astronomers of yore, such as Schiaparelli and Lowell, required total revision. This topographical renaming is one aspect of journalist Morton's lively ramble through, as he puts it, scientists' and writers' penchant to project ideas about Earth's geography onto that of Mars. Certainly some features are receptive to the comparison, such as volcanoes or polar ice caps. Otherwise, the Red Planet's surface relief is unearthly, provoking geological debate that Morton encapsulates. Some of the people he profiles are not well known but are significant, such as Merton Davies, a pioneer in surveying Mars; however, other personalities are widely known, such as sf author Kim Stanley Robinson. The startling discoveries by American spacecraft apparently rejuvenated the sf genre as well as schemes to send people to Mars, such as those percolating in the 'underground' of enthusiasts. They will flock to Morton's appealing blend of science and imagination."—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"Well-known British science writer Morton, a contributor to Wired, The New Yorker and Science, traces scientists' efforts to map and understand the surface of Mars. Because much of the planet's surface material is basalt, which is porous, Morton explains, it is very probable that water from Mars's now dry canyons long ago sank into underground aquifers and froze. Mars has often been regarded as the planet most similar to n0 Earth, but the author describes graphically how startlingly different its topography is. Mars is a planet with mountains larger than whole American states and plains the size of Canada. Our Grand Canyon would be dwarfed by the massive erosion canyons that surprised us a decade ago with their implication that titanic floods once rushed across the planet's surface. Olympus Mons, its largest volcano, is taller than two Everests, contains more than four times the total volume of the Alps and has a circumference larger than the distance between the northern and southern tips of the home islands of Japan. Morton writes eloquently and displays a breadth of knowledge not often found in science writing. He summarizes how science fiction authors have imagined Mars as well as how pre-computer artists used airbrush techniques to depict Mars's monstrous contours . . . Astronomy and geology buffs will be sure to snap it up."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Oliver Morton is a contributing editor at Wired, as well as a contributor for The New Yorker, Science, and The American Scholar. He lives with his wife in Greenwich, England.
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  • Oliver Morton

  • Oliver Morton is a contributing editor at Wired, as well as a contributor for The New Yorker, Science, and The American Scholar. Mapping Mars was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, and nominated for the British Science Fiction Association's award for "Best Related Work." Morton lives with his wife in Greenwich, England.