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Tales from the rented ride: 'Taxi from Another Planet'

Charles S. Cockell's book explores questions of the universe with those universal beings: cabbies.

Taxi from Another Planet.jpg
Charles S. Cockell's book "Taxi from Another Plant" relates the wisdom of the person behind the wheel of your rented ride.
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You're somewhat of a captive audience.

The guy up front, the one who's driving, really has all the power. He can speed up or slow down, yammer or stay silent. To get where you need to be, you have to go with his flow until you actually get there so you may as well just sit back. As in the new book "Taxi from Another Planet" by Charles S. Cockell, you might learn something.

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At the ends of long flights to conferences, symposiums, and home, former NASA scientist Charles Cockell says he looks forward to a cab ride to finish his journey. One reason is that taxi drivers are "particularly interesting to engage in" philosophical conversations because cabbies are "exposed to the bountiful and colorful menagerie of humanity."

The questions he poses to cab drivers, and subsequent discussions, are as wide as they are deep.

The evolution of "churning, swirling matter" comes the answer to one question, for instance, when a driver asked Cockell if he thought he might have a doppelganger in another universe. An explanation gave the cabbie – and the reader – a reminder of our "rare haven" of a planet.


Or, let's say aliens suddenly came to Earth tomorrow afternoon. Would we flee in horror, or would we welcome them with curiosity and a willingness to make peace? How aware are we of the cautions of finding out?

Will you ever have the chance to travel to Mars? Once we can, should we use the Red Planet as our "Plan B" if Earth becomes too crowded and polluted? The answers beg for patience and a reminder that "Earth is the best planet we have for the foreseeable future."

Is it possible that the aliens already "own" us? Will we be able to communicate with them, if they ever arrive? Would we really be able to live our entire lives on Mars? And if we decide to forego space exploration in favor of "fixing" what's wrong on Earth, are we prepared to forego the things space exploration teaches us?

So, it looks like another American moon trip is probable again, and the possibility of one day living on Mars is on the table. But were those old 1950s Martian-and-monster sci-fi movies at least a little right?

Take a deep breath, and read "Taxi from Another Planet."

Then relax. Author Charles S. Cockell gives readers a good, basic (and easy-to-understand) refresher course on life on Earth as he prepares to discuss life outside Earth, and it's not at all scary. Cockell instead shows how science is relevant in his reader's lives, with fun examples and pop-culture references. "Impossible," in fact, isn't a word that Cockell uses often; you're invited to let your ideas roll, let your imagination go wild, and to dream... carefully.

While this is surely a book for adults, older teens who study the skies and make plans for a home on the moon will appreciate it, as well. Place your copy of "Taxi from Another Planet" near your telescope. You might find it captivating.

Book notes

"Taxi from Another Planet: Conversations with Drivers about Life in the Universe" by Charles S. Cockell from Harvard University Press is available in hardcover and ebook formats through online booksellers.


Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on the prairie in Wisconsin with one man, two dogs and 16,000 books. Look for her at bookwormsez.com or bookwormsez on Twitter.

Bookworm — Terri Schlichenmeyer column sig

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