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Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universeby Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee
Synopses & Reviews
What determines whether complex life will arise on a planet? How frequent is life in the Universe?
In this exciting new book, distinguished paleontologist Peter D. Ward and noted astronomer Donald Brownlee team up to give us a fascinating synthesis of what's now known about the rise of life on Earth and how it sheds light on possibilities for organic life forms elsewhere in the Universe.
Life, Ward and Brownlee assert, is paradoxically both very common and almost nowhere. The conditions that foster the beginnings of life in our galaxy are plentiful. But contrary to the usual assumption that if alien life exists, it's bound to be intelligent, the authors contend that the kind of complex life we find on Earth is unlikely to exist anywhere else; indeed it is probably unique to our planet.
With broad expertise and wonderful descriptive imagery, the authors give us a compelling argument, a splendid introduction to the emerging field of astrobiology, and a lively discussion of the remarkable findings that are being generated by new research. We learn not only about the extraordinary creatures living in conditions once though inimical to life and the latest evidence of early life on Earth, but also about the discoveries of extrasolar planets, the parts Jupiter and the Moon have played in our survival, and even the crucial role of continental drift in our existence.
Insightful, well-written, and at the cutting edge of modern scientific investigation, Rare Earth should interest anyone who wants to know about life elsewhere and gain a fresh perspective on life at home which, if the authors are right, is even more precious than we may ever have imagined.
"Now, two prominent scientists say the conventional wisdom is wrong. The alien search, they add, is likely to fail....Rare Earth....is producing whoops of criticism and praise...[some] call it 'brilliant' and 'courageous.'" The New York Times
"Renowned paleontologist Ward (Univ. of Washington), who has authored numerous books and articles, and Brownlee, a noted astronomer who has also researched extraterrestrial materials, combine their interests, research, and collaborative thoughts to present a startling new hypothesis: bacterial life forms may be in many galaxies, but complex life forms, like those that have evolved on Earth, are rare in the universe. Ward and Brownlee attribute Earth's evolutionary achievements to the following critical factors: our optimal distance from the sun, the positive effects of the moon's gravity on our climate, plate tectonics and continental drift, the right types of metals and elements, ample liquid water, maintainance of the correct amount of internal heat to keep surface temperatures within a habitable range, and a gaseous planet the size of Jupiter to shield Earth from catastrophic meteoric bombardment. Arguing that complex life is a rare event in the universe, this compelling book magnifies the significance — and tragedy — of species extinction. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries." Library Journal
"It's brilliant...courageous....It's rare in literature and science that a stance goes so far against the grain." Dr. Geoffrey W. Marcy, University of California at Berkeley
"A provocative, significant, and sweeping new book....Rare Earth is a fast-paced, thought-provoking read that I gobbled like popcorn. It's one of those rare books that is at once delightful, informative, and important: an end-of-the-millennium synthesis of science that tackles the central question of our past, place, and destiny." Northwest Science & Technology
Explains that conditions on Earth and other planets facilitate simple lifeforms, and that complex plant and animal life maybe more rare than historically predicted.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 289-315) and index.
About the Author
PETER D. WARD is Professor of Geological Sciences and Curator of Paleontology at the University of Washington in Seattle. His previous books include Time Machines and The Call of Distant Mammoths, The End of Evolution, and On Methuselah's Trail.
Table of Contents
Why life might be widespread in the universe — Habitable zones of the universe — Building a habitable Earth — Life's first appearance on Earth — How to build animals — Snowball Earth — The enigma of the Cambrian explosion — Mass extinctions and the Rare Earth Hypothesis — The surprising importance of plate tectonics — The Moon, Jupiter, and life on Earth — Testing the Rare Earth Hypotheses — Assessing the odds — Messengers from the stars.
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