By Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan

124,694 ratings - 4.37* vote

Cosmos is one of the bestselling science books of all time. In clear-eyed prose, Sagan reveals a jewel-like blue world inhabited by a life form that is just beginning to discover its own identity and to venture into the vast ocean of space. Featuring a new Introduction by Sagan’s collaborator, Ann Druyan, full color illustrations, and a new Foreword by astrophysicist Neil Cosmos is one of the bestselling science books of all time. In clear-eyed prose, Sagan reveals a jewel-like blue world

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Book details

Paperback, 425 pages
December 10th 2013 by Ballantine Books

(first published May 3rd 1980)

Original Title
0345539435 (ISBN13: 9780345539434)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Can I give this one ten stars? If I had a religion, I would be a Carl Saganian. Love him so much.


I wonder what Carl Sagan may have thought of 9/11 and the world in the new millennium, a strife-torn place which is being shaken up and shaken out every moment. I imagine the civil but slightly horrified and slightly bemused tone he may have employed while talking about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the antics of the Bush administration which have become such excellent fodder for stand up comedians the world over. And I can almost detect the note of boyish enthusiasm in his voice while he may have spoken of the Higgs Boson and explained the reasons behind the incorrect observation readings of the 'neutrinos being speedier than light particles' experiment that had made the headlines a few years ago.

I can only imagine because he wasn't there to witness these watershed events and he isn't here to offer comment, criticism or share his inexhaustible repository of knowledge with us any longer. His time in the Cosmos had run out within two decades of the publication of this work - a testament to his own belief in the staggering inferiority of our evanescent lifetimes in the scheme of the universe(s).
"Our familiar universe of galaxies and stars, planets and people, would be a single elementary particle in the next universe up, the first step of another infinite regress."

It would be nice if I could summarize each one of the 13 chapters of 'Cosmos' and give readers the lowdown on our painstakingly slow but rewarding crawl through the fabric of space and time, the civilizational hurdle race towards a finish line which we can neither begin to envision nor fully comprehend yet.
I could write a review in the conventional format, leaving you with a gentle nudge to read this book as soon as you can.

Or, instead, I could simply write about how, despite being more than 30 years outdated, Carl Sagan's voice of reason rings truer than ever, cutting through the heart of all the din and chaos of our troubled times. I could just tell you how Sagan's deep and abiding love for nature and humanity reverberates in every page of this work and how our scientific endeavours across timelines and geographical boundaries, across the unending void which surrounds us on all sides, symbolize our collective pursuit of knowledge.
"There is no other species on Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised."

The Cold War is a now defunct appendage of our history, the Soviet Union is no more, America has achieved a milestone in its race relations by welcoming its first African American President. But turmoil in the world order persists - the nuclear arms race between the Americans and the Soviets has been replaced by a newer dance of dominance in the Asia Pacific region. The world is as much embroiled in a mesh of steadily growing list of challenges as it was in the past, if not more. Preposterous decrees issued by fanatical outfits, blatant human rights violations, infringement on freedom of speech and expression, diplomatic arm-wrestling, the ever-enthusiastic decriers of science, 'War on Women', the shouts of the global-warming deniers reign supreme still. The players may have changed faces but the game of petty one-upmanship in the arena of global politics still continues unabated.

Which is why Sagan's rousing call for all of mankind to unite under the identity of citizens of the Cosmos and not as citizens of a nation moves me to the core of my being. His recapitulation of our scientific advancements achieved against the tide of adverse circumstances, of the victories won in the face of persecution by religious authority, impresses upon us a sense of urgency - that with the exponential increase in the defense budgets of the global powers, the incentive given to the greatest minds of our times to devote time and energy to unraveling the mysteries of the Cosmos is reduced. As the concept of 'nuclear deterrence' receives a pat on the back, the global arms sales numbers continuing to soar despite hollow promises of arms control, more and more scientists are being engaged in improving weapons technology rather than validating the fact of our existence against the intimidating presence of the stars, galaxies and universes. The NASA budget cuts of recent times are proof of this ignominy.
Is it to this end that the ancient advanced cities like Alexandria, the destroyed civilizations of Ionia and the Aztecs and pioneers such as Eratosthenes, Democritus, Aristarchus, Hypatia, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Christiaan Huygens, Issac Newton and Albert Einstein worked tirelessly for? To further intensify mutual national antagonism and increase our probability of complete self-annihilation?

Sagan thinks not.
"Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for the Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring."

This is why I can't help but agree quite heartily with someone who says 'If I had a religion, I would be a Carl Saganian.'
"If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another."

If there is only one worldly diktat we must abide by with unquestioning faith, let it be this one.


The Star system in GR is absolutely inadequate for rating this book.

Gosh, I should not use the term ‘absolutely’ for something in which everything orbits around relativity.

Anyway, I think something like this would give a better idea of my opinion about this book: my rating is an universe of zillions to the power of zillions of stars, …and expanding.

My rating:

What a brilliant read this has been. I have read it very slowly; one chapter a week. But what are thirteen weeks in relation to cosmic time? I have also read it in parallel to watching the DVD programs. What a treat this has been to have Carl Sagan in the little and measurable and limited space of my living room, bringing home and explaining to me, the immensity of all that space and dust and gas and light and fire and immeasurable time.

Sagan’s mind is truly cosmic, in scope and in outlook. We accompany him as he pulls together history, with the pre-Socratic, the Alexandrians, Leonardo, Kepler and Tycho Brahe, Huygens, Einstein, with the basics of biology and chemistry and physics and astronomy.

I particularly liked his explanation of the effects of Relativity on the light spectrum on board of an Italian Vespa, in a true Pasolini manner. I smiled at the candid StarTreckish nave from which we travel through his half-observed-half-fictional universe. I gasped to see he was using a touch screen to navigate his craft, realizing this would have seemed so fancy back in the early 1980s when Sagan’s program and book were all the rage, and which for us is now so irritatingly ubiquitous.

I loved his survey of the Lives of Stars and his anecdote of his first trip to the library as a kid, when upon his request for a book on stars the Librarian gave him a book on Hollywood actors and actresses. Startling are also the simulations in the film version of the encounter of various objects and any given galaxy. Unforgettable.

The contents are primarily a laudable exposition of what he calls the language of the universe--the language of science--, which he deciphers as if he were handling a Rosetta stone of multiple dimensions. But a running argument, and I suspect one motivation behind this wondrous book and program, is his deeply human and humane quest to undo our main enemies: superstition and violence.

Produced during the Cold War, the book seems a mission launched to make us aware of our origins and our circumstances and increase our awareness of the possibilities of self-destruction. His work is an epic from a savior with a cosmic projection.

But the most precious impression I have gathered in this reading is a reminder of how infinitesimally small I am and the inconsequence of my being. But also how, in spite of my own insignificance, how lucky I am to be one more specimen of this wondrous phenomenon of evolution through which a conscience is formed in a strange and extraordinary combination of a few natural elements.

Rather than depressing, I have found this thought heartening.

A reminder that I have to enjoy it while it lasts.

Which means to keep reading books and bask in the knowledge transmitted to me through this wonderful medium, invented by us.

Sagan after all begins and ends his account with the Alexandrian Library.

He understood.


I saw the TV series years before I read the book. I'm glad I did; I was able to project the image and voice of Carl Sagan into the words on the page. If there is a better science related, non-fiction book out there, please, someone point it out to me.

Revised Oct. 2017.


I'm not sure what I could possibly say about Cosmos that hasn't already been said by countless others in the 28 years since its publication, and likely in a far more intelligent and eloquent way than I ever could. But upon recently reading this book for the first time (which may seem a bit belated, but I am, after all, only 23) it instantly became one of my favorites, a status not easily attained by any book, and so I feel compelled to say something, to expound upon its many virtues and why it has endeared itself to me so completely.

"One glance at [a book:] and you hear the voice of another person--perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time."

Perhaps prophetically, this is exactly the effect the late great Dr. Sagan acheived with this book. Through the power and fluid elegance of his prose, while reading Cosmos I could almost hear that familiar and somehow majestic voice (which in large part, I believe, made the PBS miniseries of the same name so wholly entrancing), as if the two of us were old friends having a leisurely, albeit profoundly intellectual, chat over coffee. Not exactly what one might expect from a book largely concerned with science, but this is just one of many qualities that makes it not only endearing to the reader, but also--and perhaps more importantly--accessible, making even the smattering of complex equations seem casual and undaunting.

Aside from the beauty of its prose, which is at times poetic in its depth and its eloquence, Cosmos is also wholly engaging and fascinating in the depth and scope of its subects. Sagan succinctly and expertly covers everything from the birth of stars to the birth of science, the origins of life on Earth to the possibility of life on other planets, and our far distant and recent (in the grand cosmic scheme of things) past to the possibilities for our distant future. And yes, because science is constantly evolving and, as Dr. Sagan states, self-correcting, some of the information and theories covered may now be outdated, but I still believe that Cosmos is well worth reading. Not only can it serve as a friendly, accessible, and engrossing jumping-off point for we common folk who are interested in delving deeper into science but may feel a bit intimidated, it is also, if nothing else, worth reading for the beautifully poignant and evocative insights and the oft-philosophical tidbits contained therein.

"We are the local embodiment of the Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars...."

My only complaints about Cosmos are these: the last two or three chapters lag just a bit, incorporating several topics that seem extraneous and unnecessary, and somewhat lose the smooth, easy flow present throughout the rest of the book; and though I feel that, in the current world political climate, the section discussing nuclear arms is still as relevant today as then, I can't help but think that anybody above the age of 12 and possessing a fully-functioning cerebral cortex is already aware of the potential consequences of nuclear war (gamma burst, radiation poisoning, junk in the atmosphere, nuclear winter, death, doom, destruction, we get it already). However, I can concede on this last point that, at the time of publication, the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war was perhaps still a pretty hot topic. And in the grand scheme, these negative points make up only a negligible fraction of this otherwise fantastic book, and do not in anyway detract from its intrinsic value or from its overall enjoyability.

All in all, Cosmos is a thoroughly enthralling read that takes you on a breath-taking journey from the inception of the Universe to futures that may never be, and allows us to ponder--when considering our own epic journey from starstuff to "assemblages of a billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of atoms"--what it truly means to be human and what our place, our purpose, is in the vast expanse of "this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky".

Manuel Antão

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Flexible Belts: "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan

(Original Review, 1980-11-17)

A lot of talk has been going on about the flaws in Carl Sagan's COSMOS series. These flaws center on either Sagan's unusual speaking style and acting(?) abilities, or the show's contents. I certainly agree that he looks stupid when displaying the "awed" look; however, the complaints about the content of his shows are not justified. Yes, he is short on reasons and long on visual effects, and, yes, he talks as if the viewer did not know the obvious. What we are all forgetting is this: the average person doesn't know what we would consider "obvious". We should realize that Carl Sagan has his work cut out for him making science digestible for the average person.


A five stars to this book.
Stars borrowed from skies that I witnessed when I was eight or maybe ten and would wake up early at pre-dawn, because that was the best time for star gazing after all.

To read Mr.Sagan, the words so simple describing the Universe so complex. To read a small passage and follow it up with a sleep filled with dreams of all those stars dying and being born every passing moment.
To recall, days of childish innocence gazing towards the infinite.Gazing in anticipation of recognizing a constellation or an anticipated meteor shower.
To pause while reading and reflect, wonder. To attempt understanding things with closed eyes.
To hear back from the infinite, after all these many years. Because thoughts might after all travel through vacuum.
To think what has been thought centuries ago, but not by you yet.
To take a possibility, and create countless possibilities.
To be curious, to question. To look at things with not just your eyes. To be looked back from an infinite distance, with your own eyes.
To the journeys we could take each night, only if we gave ourselves the chance to.
To Pause.To realize that this moment ephemeral as it is, and only one among a multiple of possible moments,still IS.


Let's put it simply. Cosmos is required reading for everyone who lives on this planet. It will give you a sense of perspective that nothing else can -- no lofty ideology, no omniscient religion, no inspiring quotations can explain things quite as clearly as Carl Sagan's treatise on science, reality, and the nature of things in this universe. Mind-bending and dazzling, and best of all, uncluttered by confusing scientific terminology. A book worthy of all the positive superlatives I can think of bestowing on it.

We have held the peculiar notion that a person or society that is a little different from us, whoever we are, is somehow strange or bizarre, to be distrusted or loathed. Think of the negative connotations of words like alien or outlandish. And yet the monuments and cultures of each of our civilisations merely represent different ways of being human. An extraterrestrial visitor, looking at the differences among human beings and their societies, would find those differences trivial compared to the similarities. The Cosmos may be densey populated with intelligent beings. But the Darwinian lesson is clear: There will be no humans elsewhere. Only here. Only on this small planet. We are a rare as well as an endangered species. Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.

- Carl Sagan, Cosmos

TS Chan

Carl Sagan was a good writer. For a scientist, his prose had a literary style that is enjoyable to read, and he injected a sense of philosophy into his passionate account of the origins and marvels of the cosmos.

I do find that the delivery was quite heavy-handed in trying to instill that sense of awe and wonder into the reader. What made it even more so was the narrator whose intonation carries a quality of breathless resonance. The arrangement of the subject matter also seemed a bit haphazard in my view. I couldn't help comparing this book to a favourite of mine - A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson which was organised, concise, informative, and very entertaining.

Regardless, Cosmos is still a good primer to read for those who are interested in learning more about the universe and our world before venturing into more recent writings from the likes of Stephen Hawkings (may he rest in peace) and Neil deGrasse Tyson.


I really enjoyed this! Sagan presents each topic in a clear and concise manner. His passion for science and wonderful writing made this an enjoyable reading experience.