Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Overview

Aliens are big in America. Whether they’ve arrived via rocket, flying saucer, or plain old teleportation, they’ve been invading, infiltrating, or inspiring us for decades, and they’ve fascinated moviegoers and television watchers for more than fifty years. About half of us believe that aliens really exist, and millions are convinced they’ve visited Earth.

For twenty-five years, SETI has been looking for the proof, and as the program’s senior astronomer, Seth Shostak explains in ...

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Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

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Overview

Aliens are big in America. Whether they’ve arrived via rocket, flying saucer, or plain old teleportation, they’ve been invading, infiltrating, or inspiring us for decades, and they’ve fascinated moviegoers and television watchers for more than fifty years. About half of us believe that aliens really exist, and millions are convinced they’ve visited Earth.

For twenty-five years, SETI has been looking for the proof, and as the program’s senior astronomer, Seth Shostak explains in this engrossing book, it’s entirely possible that before long conclusive evidence will be found.

His informative, entertaining report offers an insider’s view of what we might realistically expect to discover light-years away among the stars. Neither humanoids nor monsters, says Shostak; in fact, biological intelligence is probably just a precursor to machine beings, enormously advanced artificial sentients whose capabilities and accomplishments may have developed over billions of years and far exceed our own.

As he explores what, if anything, they would tell us and what their existence would portend for humankind and the cosmos, he introduces a colorful cast of characters and provides a vivid, state-of-the-art account of the past, present, and future of our search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

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Editorial Reviews

Marc Kaufman
…as an insight into what is either one of the world's great scientific endeavors or one of its big follies, this book is compelling and thought-provoking.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, chronicles the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life in a venture that covers history, politics and funding, interviews with believers and non-believers (in both the religious and scientific sense), equipment and science, as well as typical sci-fi scenarios, all salted liberally with humor: "In most stories, space is just the Wild West without the dust... where the bad guys are just like us, except for their obvious need of remedial plastic surgery." Shostak also discusses the beginnings of life on earth, how this knowledge impacts what astronomers search for in other galaxies, and the growing consortium of scientific voices who believe "it would be offensively self-centered to imagine that what has happened on Earth has only happened on Earth." Written in clear, logical prose, with many analogies to everyday life that simplify the discussion (reverse-engineering technology "from a society several centuries in advance of us is like giving your laptop to Ben Franklin"). From crop circles to abductions, he discusses and debunks common alien encounter myths ("wheat fields are poor memory storage devices"), while remaining hopeful that continued exploration will yield discoveries. Covering topics from signal processing to feature films, should entertain a broad audience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Barnes & Noble Review
Arthur C. Clarke famously encapsulated a quandary about the question of life on other planets: "Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." After reading Seth Shostak's wide-ranging and comprehensive survey of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence -- SETI, to those in the know -- I'd be willing to bet that Shostak would respectfully disagree. This optimistically persevering scientist firmly believes that we are not alone -- "In short, you'll be reading about the discovery of an alien signal in the next two dozen years" -- and that this finding will be a joyous boon to mankind. As senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, he's dedicated his life to the quest for an indisputably artificial signal from space -- be it radio waves, light pulses, or less plausible and more exotic media such as gravity waves or neutrino streams. Shostak concisely charts the timeline and milestones of this relatively young field, which extends back only to the early 1960s. He charmingly portrays the characters of the researchers involved, including himself. What the SETI folks believe might be out there, and how they go about looking for life, as well as the germane hardware, physics and cosmology are all conveyed in a breezy yet scrupulously scientific manner. (Likewise, occult, saucerian, and new age beliefs are demolished.) Provoking and fascinating, this book skates deftly over its central, retroactively apparent lacuna -- which is identical, ironically enough, to that behind UFO studies. For all of the field's logical speculations, stringent methodologies, thrilling near-misses and computer-parsed data accumulation, it has no actual successes to point to. At the core of SETI is something as numinous as the Grail, which only faith has yet made conceivable. --Paul DiFilippo
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426203923
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,402,604
  • Product dimensions: 9.26 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Seth Shostak is a scientist, author, and frequent commentator on TV and radio. He writes a monthly column on SPACE.com, and often lectures on his work at SETI. He lives in Palo Alto, California.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Frank Drake VII

Chapter One News That Would Change the World 1

Chapter Two Inklings of ET 21

Chapter Three Why Would Anyone Believe They're Out There? 59

Chapter Four Could They Be Here? 111

Chapter Five Turning Ears to the Skies 155

Chapter Six Eureka 205

Chapter Seven Beyond Gray and Hairless 251

Epilogue 291

Acknowledgments 299

Illustration Credits 301

Index 303

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Concise, readable, comprehensive overview of an interesting question.

    What is it about? Suppose you go to a library and ask for all the materials they have on the subject "EXTRATERRESTRIALS". Then you remove from that pile all the UFO/conspiracies/"Natl. Enquirer" type stuff. Then you read and summarize all the rest of the pile in a book. The result would be this book ( or so I'ld say).
    If you are a dreamer/UFO believer type, look through but don't buy it - it'll only upset and irritate you; there are montnains of books for your taste in print . If you are more of a scholar/thinker/rationalist type, this is a great book for you on many levels: it provides an excellent historical overview of the search for extraterrestrial life, brings a lot of practical and philosophical quesions which are fun to ponder, and proves that scientist's humor didn't end with R. Feynman. As it's weaker sides, I'ld mention author's sometimes (understandably) shaky biology and too much (for me) attention to details of SETI program's politics.
    I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return (RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is BK .

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    wow

    I just have to say this book is amazing. It is well written and sucks you in right away. Even though it is a non-fiction it is just a very good book and I think everyone should read it.

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