Sunday Snippet: Carl Sagan

“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it 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, proof that humans can work magic.”

There are few modern astrophysicists who are better known than Carl Sagan. He was not only an influential academic, but he also worked to popularize science through such books as Cosmos. Over the course of his career, Sagan authored no fewer than 600 scientific papers and articles, as well as being involved with over 20 books.

Perhaps I’m a little biased, given my current career choice, but the quote above from Carl Sagan resonates greatly with me. The written word really is one of man’s most powerful creations. We are able to pass our knowledge on to future generations without the filtering effect that we may get with oral traditions. And with the book, indeed, the author is speaking directly to you.

It is through books and other published works that we can visit the world once inhabited by the likes of William Shakespeare or Albert Einstein. Whether you are reading through works on non-fiction or fiction, there is a great value to be had. From historical context to human insight, we can tap into centuries of wisdom from those who came before us.

With more modern works where you are familiar with the sound of the voice of the author, sometimes you just can’t help but to hear the words on the page read to you precisely in that voice. I know that happens whenever I see someone like Morgan Freeman, David Attenborough, or Bill Gates. Absolutely, the pen is mightier than the sword, for it is with the pen that a thousand swords can be launched into battle. And we can read about that battle years later.