Percival's Planet

A Novel

Michael Byers

St. Martin's Griffin

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A novel of ambition and obsession centered on the race to discover Pluto in 1930, pitting an untrained Kansas farm boy against the greatest minds of Harvard at the run-down Lowell Observatory in Arizona

In 1928, the boy who will discover Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh, is on the family farm, grinding a lens for his own telescope under the immense Kansas sky. In Flagstaff, Arizona, the staff of Lowell Observatory is about to resume the late Percival Lowell's interrupted search for Planet X. Meanwhile, the immensely rich heir to a chemical fortune has decided to go west to hunt for dinosaurs and in Cambridge, Massachussetts, the most beautiful girl in America is going slowly insane while her ex-heavyweight champion boyfriend stands by helplessly, desperate to do anything to keep her. Inspired by the true story of Tombaugh and set in the last gin-soaked months of the flapper era, Percival's Planet tells the story of the intertwining lives of half a dozen dreamers, schemers, and madmen. Following Tombaugh's unlikely path from son of a farmer to discoverer of a planet, the novel touches on insanity, mathematics, music, astrophysics, boxing, dinosaur hunting, shipwrecks—and what happens when the greatest romance of your life is also the source of your life's greatest sorrow.

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The astronomer's wife is on her knees in the garden, facing away from him, stabbing at the soil with a silver trowel, her head covered with a big straw gardener's hat that is in fact a thrift- store sombrero whose dangly felt pompoms she long ago snipped off. During the winter when the garden is mostly dormant the mutilated sombrero lives on a hook in the laundry room, and it is one of the trusty signs of spring that Patsy has taken it down and pulled its little beaded cinch snug around her jaw and bulled her way out into the yard in just a track suit, despite Clyde's

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Book Trailer for Percival's Planet

A novel of ambition and obsession centered on the race to discover Pluto in 1930, pitting an untrained Kansas farm boy against the greatest minds of Harvard at the run-down Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

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Praise for Percival's Planet

“What makes ‘Percival’s Planet’ so irresistible is a more down-to-earth human focus brought to the story through fictional characters and events. Byers has the rare ability to break a reader’s heart practically from the moment each new character is introduced.” -

“The power of Byers’ writing will keep readers turning pages. . . . Byers has a gift for capturing the exhilaration of discover. The depth and precision of his descriptions bring his striving, searching characters fully into focus” -Dallas News
“Byers’s writing, always lyrical, shimmers and trembles and breaks our hearts. ‘Percival’s Planet’ a story of earth, sky and bones, of privilege and struggle, of grave and beautiful people is. . . deserving of our admiration and awe.” - Boston Globe

“Faultless storytelling. A gloriously expansive view of Depression-era America.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred)

“Michael Byers has written an historical novel about a famous scientist and the race to solve one of the nineteenth century's greatest unsolved mysteries. The author has done a wonderful job of letting readers follow young Clyde Tombaugh as he creates an opportunity for himself to escape from Kansas, pursue his dream of becoming an astronomer, and demonstrate his stubborn, farmboy's stick-to-it work ethic that enabled him to accomplish what the more experienced professionals could not.” —David A. Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

Percival is a smart read, a lovely read, and no matter what Pluto is, planet or planetoid, Byers’ own world is just as interesting” – Pittsburgh City Paper


“This is the stuff of page-turners, loaded with romance, ambition and betrayals. With this kind of book, once you speed through the first two-thirds, you start rationing out chapters to yourself one at a time to make it last.” – The Courier-Journal


“. . . lyrical, with many beautiful descriptive passages. The historical aspect is fascinating, and the characters are often bigger than life.” – Kansas City Public Library
“Gripping. . . . The power of the book lies in Byers’ compelling characters and finely wrought narrative of ambition, obsession and love.” – Free Press
“Byers’ wry historical novel. . . tickles the mind and grabs the heart.” – Booklist

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About the Author

Michael Byers

Michael Byers is the author of the story collection The Coast of Good Intentions, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the acclaimed novel Long for This World, winner of the First Novel Award from Virginia Commonwealth University. Both were New York Times Notable Books. A former Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner, he teaches at the University of Michigan.

Michael Byers

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Available Formats and Book Details

Percival's Planet
A Novel
Michael Byers

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
St. Martin's Press
St. Martin's Griffin
August 2011
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780312573560
ISBN10: 0312573561
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 432 pages

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Henry Holt and Co.
August 2010
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429943208
ISBN10: 1429943203
432 pages

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St. Martin's Griffin

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