When Utah State University professor Christopher Cokinos began his quest for meteorites, the precious pieces of star-stuff that allow people to hold the origins of the universe in their hands, he discovered some compelling things about more down-to-earth realities.
The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars chronicles the fascinating stories of meteorites and those whose lives were touched by them. From Arctic explorer Robert Peary’s attempts to bring back a massive iron meteorite to biologist Harvey Nininger’s lifelong pursuit of the precious rocks to the subculture of modern day collectors and dealers, Cokinos crafts character studies of those who have found it impossible to lead typical, normal lives after being touched by their encounters with cosmic debris. At the same time, he tracks the history of how people have thought about the fiery visitors over the centuries, from medieval superstition to contemporary debates over whether meteorites may have caused mass extinctions—and then, perhaps, provided the conditions or raw materials for the next great evolutionary steps.
But The Fallen Sky also becomes a unique sort of memoir, with the author’s own life changes over nearly a decade—including a divorce, a new relationship and life in a new state—intertwined with his historical research. As the final chapter deals with Cokinos’ ill-fated, meteorite-hunting trip to the South Pole, it brings full circle a singularly poetic piece of scientific history: the tension between looking to the sky for answers and struggling with the demands of the world beneath our feet.