To be human is to wonder where we are. We look at the the ocean and imagine the far shore; we look into the night sky and imagine someone waving back. Life is uncertain and frightening. Our fears need maps. We want to understand what we’re looking at.

Two recent books look at the very human (sometimes all-too-human) process of trying to make sense of the known universe: The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes, by Malachy Tallack, and The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth, by Elizabeth Tasker. They’re so stylistically and scientifically disparate as to seem unrelated, but reading them in close succession makes for something greater than the sum of its parts — a joint atlas of human guesses in a world that seems destined to confound us. Terra Incognita: ‘The Planet Factory’ And ‘The Undiscovered Islands’