How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind [NOOK Book]


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. ...

See more details below
How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook - Revised and Expanded)
$22.99 price
(Save 42%)$39.95 List Price


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
Read More Show Less

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.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400841974
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/13/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Revised and Expanded
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 755,817
  • File size: 27 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

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.
Read More Show Less

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

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)