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Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique
     

Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique

4.1 10
by John Gribbin
 

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The acclaimed author of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat searches for life on other planets

Are we alone in the universe? Surely amidst the immensity of the cosmos there must be other intelligent life out there. Don't be so sure, says John Gribbin, one of today's best popular science writers. In this fascinating and intriguing new book, Gribbin

Overview

The acclaimed author of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat searches for life on other planets

Are we alone in the universe? Surely amidst the immensity of the cosmos there must be other intelligent life out there. Don't be so sure, says John Gribbin, one of today's best popular science writers. In this fascinating and intriguing new book, Gribbin argues that the very existence of intelligent life anywhere in the cosmos is, from an astrophysicist's point of view, a miracle. So why is there life on Earth and (seemingly) nowhere else? What happened to make this planet special? Taking us back some 600 million years, Gribbin lets you experience the series of unique cosmic events that were responsible for our unique form of life within the Milky Way Galaxy.

  • Written by one of our foremost popular science writers, author of the bestselling In Search of Schrödinger's Cat
  • Offers a bold answer to the eternal question, "Are we alone in the universe?"
  • Explores how the impact of a "supercomet" with Venus 600 million years ago created our moon, and along with it, the perfect conditions for life on Earth

From one of our most talented science writers, this book is a daring, fascinating exploration into the dawning of the universe, cosmic collisions and their consequences, and the uniqueness of life on Earth.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“The Milky Way contains a few hundred billion stars, but almost certainly contains only one intelligent civilization,” says astrophysicist and veteran popular science writer Gribbin (The Theory of Everything). In an infinite universe, on the other hand, anything is possible, but we can only explore such questions closer to home. Gribbin makes a thoroughly lucid and convincing case. Recent astronomical observations have shown that exoplanets—worlds orbiting other stars—are more common than we expected, but Earth-like worlds are rare. And even planets in a “habitable zone” of both a galaxy and an individual star need water and the right organic compounds to engender and sustain carbon-based life. “Life got a grip on Earth with almost indecent haste,” but it took Earth’s metallic core and a near-twin Moon to stabilize Earth’s tilt and steer off dangerous radiation; equally advantageous to Earth, Jupiter’s mass pulls in most of the comets and asteroids that might otherwise smash into us. Gribbin lays out the details one by one, building a concise case that “e are alone, and we had better get used to the idea.” (Dec.)
From the Publisher

* ""This book's title exaggerates the author's argument about the rarity of life in the ""universe"": Gribbin (astronomy, Univ. of Sussex, UK; In Search of the Multiverse) claims only that intelligent life in the Milky Way galaxy (not the entire universe) is almost certainly limited to Earth. Since there are billions of galaxies in the visible universe (and possibly an infinite number beyond the reach of our instruments), his carefully limited claim is sensible. He presents a formidable array of evidence from astronomy, astrophysics, geology, and evolutionary biology to support his basic assertion. Gribbin's definition of intelligent life on Earth includes only Homo sapiens, so he is weighing the likelihood that species on other planets within the local galaxy have intelligence equaling or exceeding that of humans. His case is well presented, but the odds may shift in the next few decades as more data are gathered on the Earthlike planets outside our solar system. VERDICT Gribbin is a veteran author of popular science books; this new volume should be of great interest for all readers curious about the possibility of life beyond our own planet. Strongly recommended.""—Jack W. Weigel, formerly with Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor (Library Journal, November 15, 2011)

""The Milky Way contains a few hundred billion stars, but almost certainly contains only one intelligent civilization,"" says astrophysicist and veteran popular science writer Gribbin (The Theory of Everything). In an infinite universe, on the other hand, anything is possible, but we can only explore such questions closer to home. Gribbin makes a thoroughly lucid and convincing case. Recent astronomical observations have shown that exoplanets—worlds orbiting other stars—are more common than we expected, but Earth-like worlds are rare. And even planets in a ""habitable zone"" of both a galaxy and an individual star need water and the right organic compounds to engender and sustain carbon-based life. ""Life got a grip on Earth with almost indecent haste,"" but it took Earth's metallic core and a near-twin Moon to stabilize Earth's tilt and steer off dangerous radiation; equally advantageous to Earth, Jupiter’s mass pulls in most of the comets and asteroids that might otherwise smash into us. Gribbin lays out the details one by one, building a concise case that ""[w]e are alone, and we had better get used to the idea."" (Dec.) (Publishers Weekly, October 24, 2011)

Library Journal
This book's title exaggerates the author's argument about the rarity of life in the "universe": Gribbin (astronomy, Univ. of Sussex, UK; In Search of the Multiverse) claims only that intelligent life in the Milky Way galaxy (not the entire universe) is almost certainly limited to Earth. Since there are billions of galaxies in the visible universe (and possibly an infinite number beyond the reach of our instruments), his carefully limited claim is sensible. He presents a formidable array of evidence from astronomy, astrophysics, geology, and evolutionary biology to support his basic assertion. Gribbin's definition of intelligent life on Earth includes only Homo sapiens, so he is weighing the likelihood that species on other planets within the local galaxy have intelligence equaling or exceeding that of humans. His case is well presented, but the odds may shift in the next few decades as more data are gathered on the Earthlike planets outside our solar system. VERDICT Gribbin is a veteran author of popular science books; this new volume should be of great interest for all readers curious about the possibility of life beyond our own planet. Strongly recommended.—Jack W. Weigel, formerly with Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor
Kirkus Reviews
The British astrophysicist and prolific science writer presents a skillful, contrarian examination of the possibility of intelligent life beyond Earth. Gribbin (In Search of the Multiverse, 2010, etc.) begins with a lucid discussion of galaxy, star and planet formation. Since life on Earth appeared instantly (in geological terms) after the young planet settled down, it's mathematically probable that life develops quickly on habitable planets, and planets themselves seem almost universal. Sadly, Gribbin concludes that conditions favorable to habitable planets are rare. Liquid water must be present. If the Earth's orbit (amazingly circular, another rarity) were one percent further or five percent nearer to the sun, the inhabitants of Earth would be out of luck. Another blessing is our huge moon, which stabilizes the Earth; it and the huge planet Jupiter sweep the solar system largely clear of debris that would normally bombard our planet. Our sun is extraordinarily well behaved and long lived. Larger stars burn out too quickly to allow time for life, and most smaller ones are too unstable. Finally, earthly life's four-billion-year progression to Homo sapiens included regular disasters (asteroid strikes, abrupt climatic changes, freezeovers), which are guaranteed to continue and which make the survival of advanced civilization (as opposed to simple life) problematic. Within most readers' lifetimes, astronomers will possess technology to detect water, oxygen and tolerable temperatures around extra-solar planets. Predictions of scientific discoveries have a poor success rate, so readers should keep their hopes up as they enjoy this thought-provoking history of the universe and the prerequisites of life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781118175415
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
11/01/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
234,934
File size:
719 KB

Meet the Author

JOHN GRIBBIN is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books including In Search of the Multiverse (Wiley), In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

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Alone in the Universe 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Atheists and theists will be equally challenged by this enlightening book. The fact that you're reading this review, statistically, is only about 1 x 10^-33.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique review by Austin Anderson John Gribbin explains why he thinks we are probably alone in our Milky Way Galaxy. Whether this science is all new to you or you are already familiar with the science of cosmology and evolution, this book is a nice summary and review of what's new; written, as usual, in an easy, well explained, entertaining manner. Gribbin puts forth a strong argument and a fascinating look at all the reasons why there is life on our planet. Well worth the time! I think some of the theories were very interesting but some of them I n the book were really weird, although he had a lot of information to back up his arguements. i like how in depth he went with his research but some times  some of the theories just didn't make any sense.his book is hard to understand sometimes because he is trying to put big sciencey words into normal people language but an average intelligence person could handle this book finehis book is hard to understand sometimes because he is trying to put big sciencey words into normal people language but an average intelligence person could handle this book fine it was a great and easy read and i would definitely recommend it.his book is hard to understand sometimes because he is trying to put big sciencey words into normal people language but an average intelligence person could handle this book fine 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
John covers the subject with a lot of current information. He is very tho rough, with a wide list of viewpoints. The book shows how improbable intelligent life is else where. One thing he missed was about the complexity of DNA and cell mechanics. The Universe is huge and we will see if he is correct in the long run. I enjoyed the book a lot but I'm not convinced.
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
In 1992 Frank Drake and Dava Sobel published a book titled Is Anyone Out There: The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in which there appeared the now-famous "Drake Equation": N=R¿f_p¿n_e¿f_l¿f_i¿f_c¿L relating the hypothetical number of advanced civilizations (N) to a string of frequencies of various factors that, presumably, combine to limit N. That equation, along with the many scientific popularizes such as Carl Sagan and the media romance with alien life that continues unabated, became a symbol for the widely-held perception that it was only a matter of time before extraterrestrial life would be detected. Various efforts were made to specific the value of N, but most results were considerably greater than 1. Support for that Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence has fluctuated over the past decades during which it was paralleled by a growing sub-discipline of extra-solar-system planetary discovery. The catalog of such planets is nearing the millennial mark. Yet, no extra-terrestrials. Spurred on by planetary hard data rather than the theoretical speculation involved with the factors of the Drake Equation, the prejudice in favor of alien inevitability is beginning to erode. In Alone in the Universe John Gribben presents a powerful set of arguments - based largely on recent exo-planetary discoveries and our improved understanding of Earth System Science - to support the conclusion that human technologically advanced civilization is, in fact, unique and that there is, simply, no-one else out there, period. Gribben accepts the proposition that simple extraterrestrial life itself is very likely inevitable. However, he provides a set of very convincing arguments that there is a near-zero probability of evolution repeating itself from pro-karyotic cell to Steve Job. Alone systematically dismantles the Drake equation all based on fairly uncontroversial cosmology and geoscience. Admittedly, each of Gribben's conjectures, convincing as they are, are as unprovable as are Drake's. And, of course, the first sign of intelligent extra-terrestrial life that is detected will relegate Alone to the trash heap. All of which might lead one to conclude that either position on extraterrestrial life is a waste of effort. However, assigning N a value of 1 (or even >1) in the Drake equation does provide a framework, comparable to Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis, in which much fruitful science can be made. Gribben does not expound much in this short volume on the implications of his conclusion. If you accept Drake's original hypothesis, then you might 1. support SETI research, or 2. keep very quiet. But can the human race be convinced to act on the implications of Alone? Will humans give up the hope of some deus ex machina bailing us out at the last minute as the Earth stumbles toward environmental oblivion or will humans accept that we are the last and only hope ever for beings aware of where they have been and where they are going? Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
John Gribbin has a reputation for being a very readable of "light science" books. He's succeeded once again. While Alone in the Universe will not satisfy those looking for hard proof of this difficult question, but it does lay out a compelling case that we may never find another intelligent race of creatures in our galaxy. He methodically works down the different levels of abstraction (and forward in time) and points out the different places where our planet's evolution have taken some less probable turns. I finished reading this book a few weeks ago and I still find myself mulling over the implications of what Gribbin has pointed out. A very thought provoking and interesting book. I'd recommend it to anyone who has pondered the question: Are we alone?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an amateur astronomer and have a keen interest in this subject.  Are we alone?  If yes, that's very interesting.  If no, that is also very interesting.  Gribbin(and Ward & Brownlee in RARE EARTH) shows that even though the universe has a LOT of planets, having all the conditions necessary to develop "advanced life" in the same location at the same time for sufficient time is VERY rare.