How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind (Revised and Expanded Edition)

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Overview

Since its first publication more than twenty-five years ago, How to Build a Habitable Planet has established a legendary reputation as an accessible yet scientifically impeccable introduction to the origin and evolution of Earth, from the Big Bang through the rise of human civilization. This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative. Now this great book has been made even better. Harvard geochemist Charles Langmuir has worked closely with the original author, Wally Broecker, one of the world's leading Earth scientists, to revise and expand the book for a new generation of readers for whom active planetary stewardship is becoming imperative.

Interweaving physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology, this sweeping account tells Earth's complete story, from the synthesis of chemical elements in stars, to the formation of the Solar System, to the evolution of a habitable climate on Earth, to the origin of life and humankind. The book also addresses the search for other habitable worlds in the Milky Way and contemplates whether Earth will remain habitable as our influence on global climate grows. It concludes by considering the ways in which humankind can sustain Earth's habitability and perhaps even participate in further planetary evolution.

Like no other book, How to Build a Habitable Planet provides an understanding of Earth in its broadest context, as well as a greater appreciation of its possibly rare ability to sustain life over geologic time.

Leading schools that have ordered, recommended for reading, or adopted this book for course use:

  • Arizona State University
  • Brooklyn College CUNY
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • ETH Zurich
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Luther College
  • Northwestern University
  • Ohio State University
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • Pan American University
  • Rutgers University
  • State University of New York at Binghamton
  • Texas A&M University
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University of Bristol
  • University of California-Los Angeles
  • University of Cambridge
  • University Of Chicago
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Maine, Farmington
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of North Georgia
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Portsmouth
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Ulster
  • University of Victoria
  • University of Wyoming
  • Western Kentucky University
  • Yale University


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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Review

[T]his classic history of our common home with the latest discoveries in planetary science . . . is a cutting-edge exploration of the Earth's evolution from the Big Bang to the advent of human civilization.
Popular Science
To be worth being this unwieldy, a book ought to do something pretty remarkable. And that's just what How to Build . . . does, as you can tell from its subtitle, The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Now that's what you call a large canvas.
— Brian Clegg
BBC Sky at Night
The authors . . . have taken on a mighty task. You cannot underestimate the accuracy of their scholarship, or its thoroughness.
— Heather Couper
Nature Geoscience
This is a completely different book, wholly updated but also more detailed and more comprehensive. Yet, it keeps the bright flavour of the old version, and remains accessible without compromising on accuracy. . . . How to Build a Habitable Planet is an accurate and enjoyable read.
— Euan G. Nisbet
Popular Science - Brian Clegg
To be worth being this unwieldy, a book ought to do something pretty remarkable. And that's just what How to Build . . . does, as you can tell from its subtitle, The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Now that's what you call a large canvas.
Astronomy Now
Like any good story, the tale that Langmuir and Broecker tell is a complex, weaving narrative that would be ideally placed on your bookcase between James Kasting's How to Find a Habitable Planet and Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee's Rare Earth. . . . As non-astronomers they cover the initial cosmological and astronomical sections adequately, but as the book develops towards explaining the processes that make Earth habitable, the authors' expertise really comes to the fore. . . . How to Build a Habitable Planet is Earth's story, but Langmuir and Broecker conclude with a nod to exoplanets and the search for alien life. Could it one day also become another planet's story?
BBC Sky at Night - Heather Couper
The authors . . . have taken on a mighty task. You cannot underestimate the accuracy of their scholarship, or its thoroughness.
Nature Geoscience - Euan G. Nisbet
This is a completely different book, wholly updated but also more detailed and more comprehensive. Yet, it keeps the bright flavour of the old version, and remains accessible without compromising on accuracy. . . . How to Build a Habitable Planet is an accurate and enjoyable read.
Irish Times - Ray Bates
Enormous advances have been made in the Earth sciences in the years since the original volume appeared. In addition, climate change has become a much more urgent topic. The revised version aims to bring the science up to date and to give a current environmental perspective. In this undertaking, Broecker has been joined by Langmuir, who now becomes first author. Their approach of providing each chapter with a clear introduction and summary will help greatly in accommodating the lay reader. . . . We can be grateful to the authors that they had the initiative and energy to undertake a scientific synthesis of such broad scope. . . . All who are concerned with the global environment and who wish to be scientifically well-informed in relation to it will find the book a worthwhile and inspirational challenge.
Choice
[Langmuir and Broecker] strike a nice balance with roughly an equal number of chapters devoted to life, earth, and extraterrestrial processes. . . . What makes it work is the authors' admirable job of focusing tightly on how the many processes they outline feed into life's makeup or systems needed to support it.
Current Science - Ramananda Chakrabarti
Although this 718 page book is over twice as long compared to the first edition, it is still a comfortable read both for earth scientists as well as nonspecialists. The diverse topics dealt with have been skillfully stitched together and each chapter provides lucid descriptions, logical discussions and a nice summary. This book could be an useful text for undergraduate students in earth sciences and with necessary supplements, could also be used for advanced courses in earth sciences.
Astrobiology Society of GB - Samantha Rolfe
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-informed exploration of the theories behind building a habitable planet. Although complex in some places, it is still accessible to many and is overall a very useful addition to any astrobiologist's library.
From the Publisher

Honorable Mention for the 2012 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Earth Sciences, Association of American Publishers

"[T]his classic history of our common home with the latest discoveries in planetary science . . . is a cutting-edge exploration of the Earth's evolution from the Big Bang to the advent of human civilization."--Barnes & Noble Review

"To be worth being this unwieldy, a book ought to do something pretty remarkable. And that's just what How to Build . . . does, as you can tell from its subtitle, The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Now that's what you call a large canvas."--Brian Clegg, Popular Science

"Like any good story, the tale that Langmuir and Broecker tell is a complex, weaving narrative that would be ideally placed on your bookcase between James Kasting's How to Find a Habitable Planet and Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee's Rare Earth. . . . As non-astronomers they cover the initial cosmological and astronomical sections adequately, but as the book develops towards explaining the processes that make Earth habitable, the authors' expertise really comes to the fore. . . . How to Build a Habitable Planet is Earth's story, but Langmuir and Broecker conclude with a nod to exoplanets and the search for alien life. Could it one day also become another planet's story?"--Astronomy Now

"The authors . . . have taken on a mighty task. You cannot underestimate the accuracy of their scholarship, or its thoroughness."--Heather Couper, BBC Sky at Night

"This is a completely different book, wholly updated but also more detailed and more comprehensive. Yet, it keeps the bright flavour of the old version, and remains accessible without compromising on accuracy. . . . How to Build a Habitable Planet is an accurate and enjoyable read."--Euan G. Nisbet, Nature Geoscience

"Enormous advances have been made in the Earth sciences in the years since the original volume appeared. In addition, climate change has become a much more urgent topic. The revised version aims to bring the science up to date and to give a current environmental perspective. In this undertaking, Broecker has been joined by Langmuir, who now becomes first author. Their approach of providing each chapter with a clear introduction and summary will help greatly in accommodating the lay reader. . . . We can be grateful to the authors that they had the initiative and energy to undertake a scientific synthesis of such broad scope. . . . All who are concerned with the global environment and who wish to be scientifically well-informed in relation to it will find the book a worthwhile and inspirational challenge."--Ray Bates, Irish Times

"[Langmuir and Broecker] strike a nice balance with roughly an equal number of chapters devoted to life, earth, and extraterrestrial processes. . . . What makes it work is the authors' admirable job of focusing tightly on how the many processes they outline feed into life's makeup or systems needed to support it."--Choice

"Although this 718 page book is over twice as long compared to the first edition, it is still a comfortable read both for earth scientists as well as nonspecialists. The diverse topics dealt with have been skillfully stitched together and each chapter provides lucid descriptions, logical discussions and a nice summary. This book could be an useful text for undergraduate students in earth sciences and with necessary supplements, could also be used for advanced courses in earth sciences."--Ramananda Chakrabarti, Current Science

"I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-informed exploration of the theories behind building a habitable planet. Although complex in some places, it is still accessible to many and is overall a very useful addition to any astrobiologist's library."--Samantha Rolfe, Astrobiology Society of GB

"This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative. Now it has been made even better."--Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin

"Generally speaking, the book by Langmuir & Broecker is very reader friendly. . . . It can become an essential reading for both beginners and professionals in geology, palaeontology, and other natural sciences. Geoscience educators will also praise it. . . . This book is a very good addition to the conventional textbooks on general geology, and it can be recommended for students as advanced reading."--Dmitry A. Ruban, Palaontologie Allgemein

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691140063
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/22/2012
  • Edition description: Revised and Expanded
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 343,493
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 2.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles H. Langmuir is the Higgins Professor of Geochemistry at Harvard University. Wally Broecker is the Newberry Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and the author of Fixing Climate and The Great Ocean Conveyor (Princeton), among other books. Both are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Table of Contents

Preface xv

Chapter 1. Introduction: Earth and Life as Natural Systems 1

Introduction 2

The Power and Limitations of Scientific Reductionism 4

Chaos 7

"Systems" 13

Characteristics of "Natural Systems" 15

Natural Systems Are Out of Equilibrium 15

Natural Systems Are Maintained by External Energy Sources 17

"Steady-State Disequilibrium" Is Maintained by Feedbacks and Cycles 17

Summary 24

Supplementary Readings 25

Chapter 2. The Setting: The Big Bang and Galaxy Formation 27

Introduction 28

The Big Bang 28

The Red Shift: Measuring Velocity 31

Measuring Distance 34

The Velocity-Distance Relationship: Dating the Beginning 41

Added Support for the Big Bang Hypothesis 43

An Expanding Universe and Dark Energy 47

Aftermath of the Big Bang 48

Summary 49

Supplementary Readings 49

Chapter 3. The Raw Material: Synthesis of Elements in Stars 51

Introduction 52

The Chemical Composition of the Sun 52

Hydrogen, Helium, Galaxies, Stars 54

Descriptive Atomic Physics 55

Element Production during the Big Bang 61

Element Formation in Stars 62

Element Synthesis by Neutron Capture 66

Evidence Supporting the Stellar Hypothesis 71

Summary 77

Supplementary Readings 81

Chapter 4. Preliminary Fabrication: Formation of Organic and Inorganic Molecules 83

Introduction 84

Molecules 88

States of Matter 90

Volatility 92

Density 94

The Two Great Classes of Molecules: Inorganic and Organic 95

Minerals 96

Organic Molecules 104

Environments of Molecular Construction 107

Summary 110

Chapter 5. The Heavy Construction: The Formation of Planets and Moons from a Solar Nebula 113

Introduction 114

Planetary Vital Statistics 117

Planetary Mass 117

Planetary Densities 119

Planetary Composition 120

Evidence from Meteorites 122

Scenario for Solar System Creation 128

Understanding the Chemical Compositions of the Terrestrial Planets 132

Summary 139

Supplementary Readings 139

Chapter 6. The Schedule: Quantifying the Timescale with Radionuclides 141

Introduction 142

Measuring Time with Radioactive Decay 145

The Isochron Technique of Radioactive Dating 150

Age of the Chondrites and Earth 154

Age of the Elements 157

Unlocking the Secrets of Ancient Short-lived Processes with

Extinct Radionuclides 164

26Al and the Presence of Supernovas in the Vicinity of the Solar Nebula 165

Summary 168

Supplementary Reading 169

Chapter 7. Interior Modifications: Segregation into Core, Mantle, Crust, Ocean, and Atmosphere 171

Introduction 172

Earth Structure 173

Chemical Composition of Earth's Layers 180

Chemical Affinities of the Elements 183

Origin of Earth's Layers 188

Separation of Core from Mantle 189

Timing of Core Formation 191

Origin of the Crust 194

Origin of the Atmosphere and Ocean 204

Summary 206

Chapter 8. Contending with the Neighbors: Moons, Asteroids, Comets, and Impacts 209

Introduction 210

The Diversity of Objects in the Solar System 212

Origin of the Moon 218

Using Impacts to Date Planetary Surfaces 223

Lunar Interior Modifications 230

History of Impacts in the Solar System 236

Implications for the Earth 239

Future Impacts 245

Summary 246

Supplementary Readings 247

Chapter 9. Making It Comfortable: Running Water, Temperature Control, and Sun Protection 249

Introduction 250

The Planetary Volatile Budget 251

Evidence for Liquid Water before 4.0 Ga 253

Stable Isotope Fractionation 255

Controls on Volatiles at the Surface 257

Atmospheric Loss to Space 258

Cycling of Volatiles between the Surface and Earth's Interior 264

Surface Temperature 265

Earth's Long-Term Thermostat 271

A Lesson from Venus 276

Snowball Earth 278

Sun Protection 280

Summary 282

Supplementary Readings 282

Chapter 10. Establishing the Circulation: Plate Tectonics 285

Introduction 286

The Static Earth Viewpoint 287

Continental Drift Theory 289

New Data from the Ocean Floor 291

Evidence from Paleomagnetism 293

Global Distribution of Seismicity 298

The Theory of Plate Tectonics 301

The Plate Tectonic Revolution 306

Movements through Time 309

Summary 311

Supplementary Readings 312

Chapter 11. Internal Circulation: Mantle Convection and Its Relationship to the Surface 315

Introduction 316

Movement of Earth's Interior 317

Earth's Topography and Mantle Flow 319

Mantle Convection 322

Must the Mantle Convect? 325

Does Plate Geometry Correspond to Mantle Convection Cells? 328

Active Mantle Upwelling: Plume Heads and Tails 335

Formation of the Ocean Crust at Spreading Centers 342

Summary 347

Supplementary Readings 347

Chapter 12. Linking the Layers: Solid Earth, Liquid Ocean, and Gaseous Atmosphere 349

Introduction 350

The Global System of Ocean Ridges 351

Hydrothermal Circulation at Spreading Centers 354

Ocean Ridges and Habitability 362

The Puzzle of Seawater Composition 362

Element Transport to the Subduction Zone 366

Geochemical Processing at Convergent Margins 369

Cause of Melting and Volcanism at Convergent Margins 369

Element Transport to the Continental Crust 375

Final Consequences of Plate Recirculation 377

Summary 379

Supplementary Readings 381

Chapter 13. Colonizing the Surface: The Origin of Life as a Planetary Process 383

Introduction 384

Life and the Universe 385

The Unity of Life 390

Life Is Cellular 390

All Life Uses the Same Groups of Molecules 391

All Life Uses the Same Chemical Machinery 396

Earliest Life 398

When Did Life Begin? 401

Life's Origin 406

Steps in the Path to Life 408

Elemental and Simple Molecular Building Blocks 409

Making the Essential Biochemical Ingredients 410

Building Complex Molecules 412

A Cellular Container 415

The Missing Links 417

Some General Considerations on the Origin of Life 420

Summary 424

Supplementary Readings 424

Chapter 14. Dealing with the Competition: The Roles of Evolution and Extinction in Creating the Diversity of Life 427

Introduction 428

History of Life and Earth Revealed through the Rock Record 432

Relating Fossils to Present-Day Life: The Theory of Evolution 438

The DNA Revolution 441

The Extinction Half of Evolution 447

Summary 450

Supplementary Readings 451

Chapter 15. Energizing the Surface: Coevolution of Life and Planet to Create a Planetary Fuel Cell 453

Introduction 454

Life as an Electrical Current 455

A Reduced Early Earth 457

The First Three Energy Revolutions 463

The Planetary Fuel Cell 469

Summary 472

Chapter 16. Exterior Modifications: The Record of Oxidation of the Planetary Surface 475

Introduction 476

Earth and Oxygen 477

Carbon: The Record of Oxygen Production 480

Carbon: Evidence from the Rock Record 483

Iron and Sulfur: The Record of Oxygen Consumption 486

Iron: Evidence from the Rock Record 488

Sulfur: Evidence from the Rock Record 493

Evidence for High O2 in the Phanerozoic 497

Oxygen from 2.0 Ga to 0.6 Ga 498

Global Oxygen Mass Balance 502

Summary 506

Supplementary Readings 507

Chapter 17. Planetary Evolution: The Importance of Catastrophes and the Question of Directionality 509

Introduction 510

Planetary Evolution during the Phanerozoic 511

Causes of Extinction Events 516

The Cretaceous/Tertiary Extinction 517

The Permo-Triassic Extinction 521

Plate Tectonics and Evolution 526

Principles of Planetary Evolution? 527

Increased Relationship and Complexity 527

Change in Energy Utilization with Time 529

Speculations on the Possibility of Directionality to Evolution 531

Evolution of Habitability 534

Summary 536

Supplementary Readings 537

Chapter 18. Coping with the Weather: Causes and Consequences of Naturally Induced Climate Change 539

Introduction 540

Intermediate Term Climate Variations: Ice Ages 541

Orbital Cycles 544

Abrupt Climate Change 555

The Great Ocean Conveyor 560

Human Impacts 564

Summary 565

Supplementary Readings 565

Chapter 19. The Rise of Homo Sapiens: Access to Earth's Treasure Chest Permits a Planetary Takeover 567

Introduction 568

Dawn of the Human Era 569

The Human Energy Revolution 573

Earth's Treasure Chest 575

Classes of Resources 580

Resources with Short Recycling Times: Air and Water 580

Vast Resources with Recycling Potential: Metals 586

Finite Resources with No Recycling 589

Fossil Fuels 589

Soils 593

Biodiversity 593

Summary 594

Chapter 20. Mankind at the Helm: Human Civilization in a Planetary Context 597

Introduction 599

Human Impacts on the Earth 600

Climate 600

Ocean Acidification 611

Biodiversity 614

Future Prospects 620

Historical Perspectives on the Future 628

Possible Solutions 632

Solving Greenhouse Gas Accumulation 635

Energy from the Sun, Wind, and Atom 635

Carbon Capture and Sequestration 637

The Broader Problem 643

An Anthropozoic Era? 644

Summary 646

Supplementary Readings 646

Chapter 21. Are We Alone? The Question of Habitability in the Universe 649

Introduction 650

Comparative Planetology--Lessons from Venus and Mars 652

Planet Finding 654

New Results from Kepler 659

The Number of Other Inhabited Planets in the Galaxy: A Probabilistic Approach 661

Human Civilization in the Context of Planetary Evolution and Life in the Universe 665

Summary 667

Supplementary Readings 668

Glossary 669

Index 687

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