Carl Sagan on Books
How to reach across the millennia and access magic.
By Maria Popova
The love of books and the advocacy for reading are running themes around here, as is the love of Carl Sagan. Naturally, this excerpt from the 11th episode of his legendary 1980s Cosmos series, titled “The Persistence of Memory,” is making my heart sing in more ways than the universe can hold.
Half a millennium after Galileo asserted that books give us superhuman powers, Sagan marvels:
What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
Complement with Sagan’s own reading list, Kafka on what books do for the human soul, and Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful meditation on why we read.
Published May 8, 2012