There has been no-one else quite like Carl Sagan in the world of literature. Dedicated to the heavens and the search for life beyond Earth, Sagan (1934-1996) was a scientist first and foremost – his books merely crowned his various day-jobs and achievements in science. Perhaps the lasting legacy of his writing is that it helped to popularize science.
Sagan’s day-jobs included working at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts (1962-1968), lecturing at Harvard and being the Associate Director of the Center for Radio Physics and Space Research at Cornell (1972-1981). He advised NASA from the very birth of the American space program.
He had numerous career highlights. He dispelled myths about the temperature on Venus, and eventually worked on the Mariner missions to that planet. He was the first claim that the moons Titan and Europa featured water. He contributed ideas about the atmospheres on various planets. He deeply considered the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. He co-founded the Planetary Society. He warned of the impact of a nuclear winter following atomic warfare.
His book Cosmos (which won a Hugo award) and its follow-up Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space made outer space understandable to the man and woman on the street. He addressed popular issues such as extraterrestrial life, comets, UFOs and nuclear war. He won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1978 for The Dragons of Eden.
Even his venture into science fiction was immensely successful. Contact, published in 1985, explored how humanity could meet a more advanced life-form. It started life as a screenplay in the late 1970s but became a novel and was eventually made into a movie with Jodie Foster in 1997.
Ann Druyan, who coauthored a number of books with Sagan, was his third wife. Sagan died in 1996 and his signed books are now relatively scarce.