by Ken Croswell
hardcover - 224 pages
from Free Press
To call something "a coffeetable book" is usually a bit of an insult, implying that its sole assets are impressive size and, at best, large and gorgeous photos. But there are exceptions to every rule and Magnificent Mars, thankfully, is one of them. Croswell's book is not only, well, magnificent, but also a solid introduction to Mars and the current state of our knowledge of this most Earthlike planet in our Solar system. He makes full use of the recent observations of Mars Global Surveyor and the Mars Odyssey orbiter which are revolutionizing our understanding of this small but complex planet. Croswell uses the classical elements of "earth, air, fire, and water" to conceptualize the geologic forces which created the volcanic, tectonic, impact, and erosional features of Mars. As in Hartmann's Traveler's Guide to Mars, Croswell makes clear our current understanding of Mars today as the product of four basic phases of Martian geologic history.
But the bald fact is that, as good and comprehensive and perceptive as the text is, it is the stunningly reproduced images that make it sing. My only criticism of Hartmann's Traveler's Guide was that some of the photos were so wonderful that I wanted to wanted to see them in a larger format. No such complaint is possible here. Magnificent Mars is 10" by 14" and weighs 5 pounds. You'll want to lay it on a table in front of you to appreciate its high resolution images. Pictures that you may have seen a dozen times before will look new and startling when seen in this "supersized" format. Even the "old" images from the Viking missions of the 1970s and Pathfinder in the 1990s look fresh here. Mars may be a small planet, but you'll agree that it is certainly "magnificent" after seeing Croswell's fine introduction.