Percival's Planet Book Review

Percival's Planet Book Review

Percival's Planet

by Michael Byers
$27.00; 414 pages

Percival's Planet is a fictionalization of the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. This is more historically inspired fiction than historical fiction. This is inevitable, since there is nothing dramatic about spending months flipping through star fields on a blink comparator.

Many of the characters we find in Percival's Planet are thus entirely fictional, although I could imagine that people like them wandered about Flagstaff in the 1930s. Byers says he based Alan and Mary Barber on his grandparents. Although Barber did not actually work at Lowell, I enjoyed the details of Barber's work on the calculation of the orbit of Planet X. It is hard to appreciate the incredible amount of work that went into calculations before the term computer meant a machine instead of a person. The description of the work involved in grinding a lens by hand was also fascinating. It is amazing what you can accomplish with grit and hard work [and incredible attention to detail].

I am a sucker for any book that even features Flagstaff, and here we have one that is largely set in Flagstaff. There are some liberties with the topography as well as with the people, but the gist is pretty good. It is fun to walk around town and imagine what it was like in 1930.

If you want something that sticks closely to the facts, this book is not it. It was not really my style, but I did enjoy the book. And in my heart, Pluto will always be a planet.

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