Cover of Visions of the Universe
Book 232 Astronomy 1981
How Did We Find Out About Volcanoes? Catastrophes!
3 spaceships-and-suns
Asimov fan
3 spaceships-and-suns
Target reader

Here are 46 stunning portraits of the Cosmos painted by the Japanese artist, Kazuaki Iwasaki. They are meticulous, almost photographic representations but framed by the artist’s eye—beauty informed by science. The 46 full-color large format reproductions sweep us from the Earth, the Moon and the Sun to the Planets and the stars. Each painting is accompanied by a clear and simple text written by the leading American science writer Isaac Asimov.

In his preface to this international collaboration, Carl Sagan writes:

Here are the graceful and intricate magnetic field lines of the Sun, traced by arches of luminous starstuff; an exquisite glimpse of the Earth four billion years ago; a bloated volcanically active Moon filling the sky; two graceful manned spacecraft of a few decades in the future, pirouetting towards a landing on the red planet Mars; an astonishing view of Saturn seen from the north pole of its airless moon Rhea; a contact binary star, with a foreground planet illuminated by the red glow of spiralling star matter. These are landscapes etched by gravity and time. This is, pretty closely, how the universe is.

By studying these planets, by imagining that we have somehow, miraculously, been dropped into them, we improve our understanding of the universe and ourselves. Within these pages many adventures wait.

This is Asimov’s second coffee-table book. As with the first, Our World in Space, it was written because somebody had a whole bunch of wonderful paintings to which they wanted text. The paintings in this case are by the Japanese artist Kazuaki Iwasaki, and the somebody who needed text to turn them into a coffee-table book was Carl Sagan.

The project, by the way, was a failure. Even though the book was priced at only $30 originally, it sold virtually no copies. I bought my own copy new within a year of publication at about 50% off.

This is rather unfortunate because the artwork is, indeed, gorgeous and Asimov’s text is as good as he ever wrote. Here the focus isn’t on the manned exploration of space, as it was in Our World in Space, but the actual various bodies of the solar system and beyond themselves. Now, of course, the artwork and text have been left somewhat in the dust by the Voyager probes et al., which provide us with real pictures every bit as spectacular as the art in the book and data that goes beyond what Asimov was able to write. I would still consider this book more than worthwhile if one can manage to get a copy.

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