Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe / Edition 1

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The sweeping diversity of complex life on Earth, Ward and Brownlee argue, evolved out of an extraordinary set of physical conditions and chance events that would be extremely hard to duplicate- though not impossible. Many planets throughout the vastness of the Universe may be teeming with microbial life, but advancement beyond this stage is very rare. Everyone with an interest in the possible extent of life in the Universe and the nature of life's evolution on our own planet will be fascinated by RARE EARTH.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...likely to cause a revolution in thinking..."
The New York Times

"...[the book] has hit the world of astrobiologists like a killer asteroid..."
Newsday (New York)

"...a sobering and valuable perspective..."

"...a startling new hypothesis..."
Library Journal

"...Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee offer a powerful argument..."
The Economist
"...provocative, significant, and sweeping..."
Northwest Science & Technology

"...a stellar example of clear writing..."
American Scientist

London Times
If they are right, it could be time to reverse a process that has been going on since Copernicus.
[a book that] has hit the world of astrobiologists like a killer asteroid . . .
Associated Press
. . . a pleasure for the rational reader . . . what good books are all about . . .
The New York Times
Maybe we really are alone in the Universe, after all
. . . a sobering and valuable perspective . . .
Library Journal
. . . a startling new hypothesis . . .
American Scientist
. . . a stellar example of clear writing . . .
The New York Times
...Rare Earth...is producing whoops of criticism and praise...[some] call it 'brilliant' and 'courageous' ....Now, two prominent scientists say the conventional wisdom is wrong. The alien search, they add, is likely to fail Their book, "Rare Earth" (Springer-Verlag), out last month, is producing whoops of criticism and praise, with some detractors saying that the authors have made their own simplistic assumptions about the adaptability of life forms while others call it "brilliant" and "courageous."

"We have finally said out loud what so many have thought for so long-that complex life, at least, is rare," said Dr. Peter D. Ward of the University of Washington, a paleontologist who specializes in mass extinctions and whose previous works include "The Call of Distant Mammoths" (Springer-Verlag, 1997). "And to us, complex life may be a flatworm."

Seattle Times
It's a thought that grips most everyone who stares into the unfathomable depths of a star-speckled night: Is there anybody out there? The odds, say Peter Ward and Don Brownlee, are probably more remote than you think. Earth, they contend, is simply too special, the result of myriad physical conditions missing from most of the universe, with just enough time and other circumstances to let complicated life arise. "We consider it to be random chance and luck," said Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomer. "Mostly luck...." "We really hope in our heart of hearts that we're completely wrong," said Ward. "We want there to be lots of life out there. We want every star around us to have intelligent life. But as scientists, here's what the evidence in our short lives and our narrow imaginations tells us. We say at the end of the book, perhaps this book is simply a failure of imagination."
Library Journal
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.--Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780387952895
  • Publisher: Springer New York
  • Publication date: 12/10/2003
  • Edition description: 1st ed. 2000. 1st softcover printing
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 266,694
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Contents Preface to the Paperback Edition
Preface to the First Edition
Introduction: The Astrobiology Revolution and the Rare Earth Hypothesis
Dead Zones of the Universe
Rare Earth Factors 1 Why Life Might Be Widespread in the Universe
2 Habitable Zones of the Universe
3 Building a Habitable Earth
4 Life’s First Appearance on Earth
5 How to Build Animals
6 Snowball Earth
7 The Enigma of the Cambrian Explosion
8 Mass Extinctions and the Rare Earth Hypothesis
9 The Surprising Importance of Plate Tectonics
10 The Moon, Jupiter, and Life on Earth
11 Testing the Rare Earth Hypotheses
12 Assessing the Odds
13 Messengers from the Stars References

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2003

    theoritical assumptions

    The book 'Rare Earth' was well written and informative, but don't you think this just assumptoins of two scientist's interpritations of gathered information set before them? Consider the unknown conditions and information of environments that wasn't available to them, their conclusions would be considerabaly different. Life itself is rare, but if it weren't, imagine the chaos and conflict that would exist, we can't even get along with our selves, be greatful it's rare and far between. Life as we know it, is life as we know it. Don't exclude the undiscovered, we can only assume what we can relate to, everything else is just guessing till proven fact.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    A must read, and must have in your library

    I had expected some philosophical musings and light-weight evidence to support the premise. Instead you get the best book I've read yet tracing the latest ideas on the Earth's development and geographical and biological evolution. The most recent scientific theories and fact findings are presented and discussed to bring considerable weight to the author's premise that our earth and it's biological development are rare and probably not duplicated elsewhere, except for perhaps microscopic life. If you want the most up-to-date ideas and findings on how life developed and evolved, then this is a must read. The writing is also very understandable for the non-technical person (like me) who wants the findings and interpretations without too much pendantic discussion on chemical analysis, DNA structure, rock formation, etc. Even if you really want to believe in ET and billions of Earth-like planets out there, this book is the best for presenting the tremendous circumstances necessary to create another home for higher life forms.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2001

    Required Reading

    This is a book that if correct, could have monumental consequences in the way we look at our place in the Cosmos. While it goes against much of the current thinking on the subject, the authors do an excellent job of making a case. If complex animal life is truly rare in the Universe, we need to rethink the value of our planet, species, and all life on Earth. This book should be required reading for all high school age students.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Read Hardback Years Ago But Still Recommend

    I purchased this in hardback several years ago, perhaps about 2000 or so, and have only read it twice since then...but it is so powerful that it still stands out in my memory as an awesome book that was thought-provoking, informative, and made me grateful for the wonderful world upon which we live.

    I'm an accountant and freelance photographer by trade, but the authors explained complex concepts so even an "armchair astronomer" may understand the subject matter.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2008

    Do you believe in alien life?

    This book will take you in a diferent aprouch and view on how life can be found in other worlds.Not the typical'Take me to your leader'alien life,but a scientific view and real posibilities within the universe.I enjoided very much.

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    Posted October 22, 2008

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    Posted July 3, 2013

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    Posted December 25, 2014

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