We meteorite enthusiasts are passionate about our space rocks, and also pretty much anything else related to them, especially books. It has been a while since a major new meteorite book appeared in our telescopes. The last was The Field Guide to Meteors and Meteorites by O. Richard Norton and Lawrence A. Chitwood published in 2008. The release of any work on the subject is a treat for us, and the wonderful new meteorite book The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars by Christopher Cokinos is both a joy to read and a revelation.
To most people the study of meteorites might perhaps seem as "hard science" a topic as one could find. Planetary geology, the formation of asteroids, the theories of chondrule creation, how meteorites heat up and break up in our atmosphere, where they fall, and what they are made of are just a few of the topics we research and ponder. So, what a delight it is to find a book that does not deal, primarily, with the composition and classification of meteorites, but rather delves deeply into their mystery, history, and allure.
Christopher uses meteorites as a vehicle to embark upon his own journey of discovery, at the same time considering the astonishing journeys they have made. While visiting some of the most famous meteorites sites in the world including Cape York, Greenland; Antarctica; the Brenham, Kansas strewnfield, and Meteor Crater, Arizona; he ponders the motives and passions of brilliant and eccentric scientists, researchers, hunters and entrepreneurs who made the study of—or the acquisition of—meteorites the pivotal moments of their lives. And he makes some significant discoveries about his own life along the way.
"We each have found ourselves lost in the dark wood, whatever we thought the true way had been or can be, but for me, in no small measure, I found the path out because it was lit at times with the passage of shooting stars. This book is an exploration of lives, including my own, caught in such light."
The editor of Istope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing and a professor of English at Utah State University, Christopher is a literary writer in every sense of the word. His prose is unique and lyrical, full of imagery and contemplation. There is also plenty of humor and plenty of adventure, and rich portraits of characters who played critical roles in the history of space rocks. The Fallen Sky is an intensely personal book. Christopher digs into the lore of space rocks and shooting stars and then uses what he learns about them to examine his own life. It is the most personal and most moving book about space rocks since Harvey Harlow Nininger's great autobiography, Find a Falling Star, published in 1972 and now long out-of-print. A beautiful and thoughtful work, The Fallen Skybelongs on the bookshelf or bedside table of everyone interested in meteorites, astronomy, the study of obsession, and the history of science. On olivine-rich pallasites:
"The olivine, which on Earth is the gemstone peridot, seems to glow from within. Slices of pallasites look a bit like the coat of a metal leopard with green spots . . . Brenham olivine is autumnal and ethereal, like an October forest and sky in a luminist painting. The curves of metal look like sinuous paths connecting lakes seen from on high. A slice of Brenham? It's a silver sponge that soaks up light."
The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars by Christoper Cokinos is published by Penguin USA on July 30, 2009 Hardcover 9.25 x 6.25 in 528 pages $27.95
Photographs by Suzanne Morrison © Aerolite Meteorites LLC
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