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1980 cosmos


Watch Carl Sagan eloquently explain why books are the 'greatest of human inventions'

"A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

Carl Sagan explains why books are magic.

Carl Sagan was one of the greatest scientific communicators of his generation because he had a knack for putting things into perspective. Whether explaining the vastness of the universe through the “pale blue dot” or how we are all made of star-stuff, Sagan was able to stoke feelings of wonder in everyday phenomena that we sometimes take for granted.

On episode 11 of his groundbreaking PBS show “Cosmos” in 1980, Sagan perused a library and explained why books and the libraries they call home are pure magic.

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years,” Sagan explained.

“Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you,” Sagan continued. “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

Sagan goes on to ponder how human development would be stunted if humans only shared information by word of mouth. Great stories told by people in the past would slowly change over time until they eventually lost all meaning.

“A library connects us with the insights and knowledge of the greatest minds and the best teachers drawn from the whole planet and from all our history,” Sagan continues. “To instruct us without tiring and to inspire us to make our own contributions to the collective knowledge of the human species.”

"Libraries in ancient Egypt bore these words on their walls: 'Nourishment for the soul' and that's still a pretty fair assessment of what libraries provide," Sagan concluded the segment.