Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos', front cover
Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’, front cover

I’ve started reading ‘Cosmos’ by Carl Sagan, this is a real classic book, written by one of the great astronomers of modern times.

It is a very sad coincidence that as I was writing this I heard the news that Sir Patrick Moore had passed away, aged 89. What an inspiration he was to so many people.

Dr Carl Sagan had an extraordinary ability to explain ideas, and make them comprehensible to everyone. He received an award for ‘distinguished contributions to the welfare of mankind’, and the Pullitzer Prize for literature. He sadly died in 1996. To the current and future generations, Professor Brian Cox may well one day be regarded in the same way.

Even in the early pages of the book, before the end of the first chapter, I’ve been inspired to learn more. We haven’t even really got onto the astronomy yet. I’ve learnt a tantalising little bit about the ancient city of Alexandria, and some of the people who lived there and worked in its great library. The director of the library, Eratosthenes, correctly calculated the circumference of the Earth, over two thousand years ago. He did it by observing the shadow of vertical sticks at noon on June 21st in two different places. One, as he had read in a papyrus book in the library, had no shadow in Syene. The Sun was directly overhead. He decided to do the same test in Alexandria, and saw that the stick still had a shadow. He realised the only possible reason was that the Earth’s surface was curved.

Eratosthenes hired a man to pace out the distance between Syene and Alexandria, 500 miles, and using this with the difference in the shadows, he correctly calculated the circumference to be 25,000 miles, accurate to just a few percent. Not a bad achievement for 2200 years ago.

Not only this, I have already learnt that Alexandria was a place where all races lived in harmony, and marriages between them were encouraged. So by the end of chapter one, I need to find books to read about what life was like in Alexandria.

And on to chapter two: ‘One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue’…

Ever since school, and as long as I can remember, I never read books. I used to like factual books, picture books and encyclopaedias, but I never read stories.

In the last year though, I’ve started to get into reading proper novels. I’ve taken advantage of offers in shops like The Works, three selected books for £5, not really knowing what to expect. Admittedly, there are several I haven’t read, but I have read a few, an they’ve been enjoyable. I seem to be drawn to crime novels, and have been unable to put them down.

More recently, I’ve discovered the free iBooks app available on the iPhone and quite a large number of free books available. I’ve already read a couple that have made good reading, and I’m in the middle of a third one.

I’ve also discovered Goodreads, where I can rate books that I’ve read and discover new ones. I haven’t yet rated enough to get recommendations, but they have a great app where you can scan barcodes of your books to add them to your goodreads library. You can then say whether you’ve read them, what rating you give them, and once you’ve read and rated 20 books, you will start getting the recommendations.

If you have an iPhone, download iBooks, and browse through the bookstore for free books. You’ll be surprised what books you can get that you don’t have to pay for. Many of the classics whose copyright has expired are available for free, along with a surprising number of modern books in all genres.

I used to really want the Amazon Kindle, but now I just don’t think there’s any need. On an iPhone you can also download the Kindle app so you can use the Kindle bookstore.

Apple’s iBooks app