October 25, 1999 12:00 PM

by William Poundstone

Carl Sagan was a pot-smoking, thrice-married spoiled son who once stomped out of Ted Turner’s house after the media mogul called Sagan’s only daughter a brat. The popular Sagan was also a Cornell University astrophysicist, which is why, in addition to name-dropping, this thoroughly researched biography includes an unearthly amount of detail about planetary rocks, soil and organic compounds.

Charming, brilliant and successful, Sagan was also a bestselling author (Cosmos, Contact) whose trophy case contained a Pulitzer Prize and a handful of Emmys (for his TV show Cosmos, the highest-rated series then on public television). In short, he had broad appeal. But while veteran science writer Poundstone has done his homework, he lacks his subject’s ability to simplify complicated ideas. Ultimately, Carl Sagan reads as if it were written for two different audiences: scientists and gossip hounds. (Holt, $30)

Bottom Line: Bio that’s not exactly out of this world

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