BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
PALE BLUE DOT: A VISION OF THE HUMAN FUTURE IN SPACE by Carl Sagan. (1994). Random House. New York.
For those of us who viewed the live television launching of the first American in space, Alan Shepard Jr. (1961), and the exciting first Moon landing of Neil Armstrong (1969), this book is an electrifying account of the great age of scientific space exploration. For today's gifted students, it represents the outstanding historical achievements of 20th century science and technology. Before NASA and its successful space program, relatively little was known about the actual physical and environmental characteristics of the planets in our solar system. (I can remember building a static planetary model out of clay and wires in the late 1940s at the age of 9 when knowledge of their characteristics was limited.) Carl Sagan's book vividly reminds us of the tremendous progress made in space research and development. His book accomplishes two closely linked goals that are distinct in their impact on knowledge of space research. First, the narrative presents a concise and relatively non-technical description of the history of space exploration with emphasis on the NASA flights to all of the planets in the solar system; this narrative also includes Sagan's philosophy of life and space exploration. Second, dramatic pictures and illustrations of the planets and space vehicles are closely tied to his exquisite prose. It is impossible to describe the beauty of these pictures such as the rings of Saturn, the Milky Way Galaxy, and the Earth as seen from the Moon.
The author engages in a brilliant chronological discussion of these progressively more dramatic and technically more advanced space flights, beginning with the Moon landings and moving outward to each planet. In addition, there are fascinating chapters on the galaxies, the highly advanced search for other intelligent life, volcanoes on Earth, Mars and Venus, the chemical environment of the planets, and the future of space exploration. On this last topic, Sagan addresses the creation of artificial environments on space platforms and planets that can support human colonies. Of course, he is a strong supporter of future space exploration and colonization.
Sagan covers an enormous amount of scientific information in twenty-two chapters. He begins each one with an appropriate quotation by a famous poet, writer or space scientist. By starting his chapters in this manner, he sets the tone for the topic being discussed and shows that space exploration is not just a matter of designing the best technology and recording data on massive computer printouts. But rather, it is primarily an adventure in human discovery. In the search for information about the planets and the universe, we will learn more about the inner space of the human mind and sensibility. Sagan expresses this hope throughout his book. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 6 ("The Triumph of Voyager"), he says: "The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps./ "I do not think it irresponsible to portray even the direst futures; if we are to avoid them, we must understand that they are possible. But where are the alternatives? Where are the dreams that motivate and inspire? We long for realistic maps of a world we can be proud to give to our children. Where are the cartographers of human purpose? Where are the visions of hopeful futures, of technology as a tool for human betterment and not a gun on hair trigger pointed at our heads?" (p. 81). His answer is that "NASA, in its ordinary course of doing business, offers such a vision...." This book clearly demonstrates how science and technology involving the collection of large amounts of data can lead to enormous advances in human knowledge. The author is a great scientist who was instrumental in connecting astronomy to high technology space science. He tries to humanize the overwhelming amount of information resulting from space flights of the last 3˝ decades by examining its impact on current society and future generations. As a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Sagan is a strong supporter of gifted education programs. His book will show gifted students what it means to be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and advancement.
NATURALIST by Edward O. Wilson. (1994). Island Press: Washington, D.C.
It is difficult to determine the early influences on a person's life that lead to great achievements as an adult. Wilson's fascinating and wonderfully illustrated (line drawings) autobiography helps the student of human development to understand some of these early factors. This world-renowned Professor of Biology at Harvard University has attained the heights of accomplishment in his research on animal behavior and ecology. He is particularly well-known as one of the founders of sociobiology (the study of biological/genetic factors on animal and human behavior) and as a world-class authority on ants, i.e., their biological characteristics, behavior and social organization.
Wilson grew up in Florida, Alabama, Washington, D.C., and other parts of the southeast during the 1930s and early 1940s. The first part of the book describes how this environment stimulated his interest in insects, fish and other animals. At a young age, he engaged in many exploratory forays in the Gulf coast regions near Pensacola, Mobile and Orlando where he searched for and observed sea nettles, toadfish, ants and butterflies. During an examination of one of his catches, a fish spine flew into the pupil of his right eye, eventually causing almost complete blindness in this eye. Fortunately, the vision in his left eye was very precise (20/10) which means that he could see the fine details of small insects with exceptional clarity. Wilson's loss of stereoscopic vision and his exceptionally acute vision in the left eye significantly affected his decision to become an entomologist. Other influences on his development were his visits to the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo, and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. He lived in the nation's capital with his father when he was about nine, and this was when he became "fascinated with ants." After studying biology at the University of Alabama, Wilson entered Harvard University for his Ph.D. in entomology. The second half of the book describes his trips to exotic locations such as New Guinea, New Caledonia, other islands in the South Pacific and Caribbean, and the Florida Keys to conduct field studies. This part also concentrates on his study of ants, the tension between evolutionary biologists such as Wilson and molecular biologists such as James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. The final chapters describe his involvement in controversies surrounding sociobiology. Gifted students, parents and teachers will find this book to be a wonderful exposition of the life of a fine southern gentleman who became a great biologist.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
INTERNET RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND PARENTS OF THE GIFTED -- We have recently located some Internet groups that have interesting and useful discussions of gifted education issues, and information about gifted legislation and differentiated curriculum. Among these resources are the k12.ed.tag and misc.education.home-school.misc Newsgroups, and the firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Listservers. Some of the recent discussions have centered on acceleration, special programs for the gifted, their emotional needs, and parent concerns. We would be happy to place brief messages from our readers on the Internet or you can send us e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Interneting!
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS: A ST. PATRICK'S DAY GIFT FOR THE GIFTED
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Glory is like a circle in the water/ Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself/ Till by broad spreading it disperse to naught. William Shakespeare. Henry VI, Part I, Act I, Scene II.
In 1892 the Nobel Prize winning poet Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, published Irish Fairy and Folktales, a collection of stories from his native land. Yeats claimed he just edited this lode of Ireland's folk imagination. Besides the splendor and richness of these tales, there is evidence of his sensibility throughout them. Much of the powerful imagery, symbols and themes of Yeats' epochal poetic and dramatic writings are shown throughout this collection. Ireland's folk consciousness was a major muse for his creative productivity.
These tales constantly endeavor to deal emotionally with the tradegies and frustrations of being both Irish and part of the universal human condition. Yeats described the fairies as "fallen angels" who were not good enough to go to Heaven, yet not bad enough for Hell. The essential trait of the fairies is that they were creatures of perpetual whim. The leprechaun, another Irish mythical figure, is a shoemaker and devoté of practical jokes. These tales include witches, giants, demons, devil cats, mermaids, ghosts, and the entire range of psychic imagination. Yeats breaks these mythic creatures into subgroups such as the trooping fairies and solitary fairies. In the first story of this collection (Barnes & Noble edition, 1993), "The Fate of the Children of Lir," we encounter the combined sensibility of Yeats and the Irsih folk tradition. A member of the ancient Druid nobility had four children by a deceased wife. He marries her sister who falls prey to Yeats' splendid phrase, "the dart of jealousy." She takes the children to the lake and turns them into swans. In another wonderful line, the children express their dilemma so eloquently as swans: "Though our bodies may be upon the lake,/ Our minds at least shall fly homewards."
These types of imagination and writing have always appealed to gifted children's sensibility. They can relate not only to the magic of these tales, but to the underlying attempts of using the folk tradition to deal with human problems. I read this book on St. Patrick's Day and was especially impressed with the unique quality of Yeats' sensibility; he wrote about horror and comedy at the same time. He describes the fairies as having both a sense of humor and a profound melancholy. Recently, I was also reading Gore Vidal's Lincoln (1984) which shows that this dual characteristic was also a part of Lincoln's personality. He liked to tell comic folk stories and had constant battles with depression. Perhaps Lincoln was part leprechaun.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, April-May 1995