The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900


"There isn't an uninteresting page in it. It is a masterly review of an intriguing subject, erudite and entertaining, clear and all-encompassing reading for anyone interested in 'one of the most wondrous and noble questions in nature' ― does extraterrestrial life exist?" ― New Scientist.
Are we alone in the universe? Are there other beings on other worlds who gaze into the night sky and try to imagine us, as we try to imagine them? Those questions have been debated since ...

See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (8) from $20.49   
  • New (4) from $20.49   
  • Used (4) from $21.58   
The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900

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)
$16.49 price
(Save 44%)$29.95 List Price


"There isn't an uninteresting page in it. It is a masterly review of an intriguing subject, erudite and entertaining, clear and all-encompassing reading for anyone interested in 'one of the most wondrous and noble questions in nature' ― does extraterrestrial life exist?" ― New Scientist.
Are we alone in the universe? Are there other beings on other worlds who gaze into the night sky and try to imagine us, as we try to imagine them? Those questions have been debated since antiquity, but it was during the Enlightenment that they particularly began to engage the interest of prominent scientists and thinkers. In this fascinating volume, Professor Michael Crowe offers the first in-depth study in English of the international debate that developed between 1750 and 1900 concerning the existence of extraterrestrial life, a problem that engaged an extraordinary variety of Western thinkers across the spectrum of intellectual endeavor. Astronomers such as Herschel, Bode, Lalande, and Flammarion all weighed in, along with French philosophers Rousseau and Voltaire, American patriot Thomas Paine, Scots churchman Thomas Chalmers, and a host of others. Professor Crowe gives them all their say, as they address the question as a point of science, as a problem of philosophy, as well as a religious issue. The book ends with the "discovery" by Schiaparelli of the canals of Mars, the expansion of the canal theory by the American astronomer Percival Lowell, and the culmination of the canal controversy with the demonstration of its illusory nature.
"Crowe's book is lucid and rich in historical detail. His analysis is so fascinating and his comments on the contemporary debate so pertinent that The Extraterrestrial Life Debate can be recommended for the thoughtful reader without reservation. While a model of scholarly analysis, it has the unusual virtue of reading with the excitement of high adventure." ― Sky & Telescope.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

This Dover edition is an unabridged, slightly corrected republication of the work originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1986. Crowe philosophy of science, U. of Notre Dame considers the testimony of astronomers such as Herschel, Bode, Lalande, and Flammarion; French Rousseau and Voltaire; American patriot Thomas Paine; Scots churchman Thomas Chalmers; and a host of other scientists, philosophers, and religious leaders. The book ends with the 19th-century controversy over canals on Mars. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486406756
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 12/8/2011
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 1,446,300
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface to the Dover Edition
Introduction: before 1750
1 The plurality of worlds debate before 1750: a background survey
  I. The debate in ancient and medieval science and philsophy
  2. From Copernicus and Bruno to Fontenelle and the Newtonians
  3. "Pluralism in the early eighteenth century: "This is the best possible world" or "this Earth is Hell" "
Part I: from 1750-1800
2 Astronomers and extraterrestrials
  I. "Wright, Kant, and Lambert: pioneer sidereal astronomers and proponents of a plurality of worlds "
  2. "Sir William Herschel: "promise not to call me a Lunatic" "
  3. "Herschel's continental contemporaries: Schröter and Bode, Laplace and Lalande "
3 Extraterrestrials and the Enlightenment
  I. "The idea of a plurality of worlds in Britain: "One sun by day, by night ten thousand shine" "
  2. "Pluralism across the Atlantic: from "Poor Richard" to President Adams "
  3. "Pluralism and the French Enlightenment: philosophes, savants, and abbés "
  4. "Advocacy of extraterrestrials elsewhere in Europe: from Klopstock's cosmic Christ to Jean Paul's "Speech of the Dead Christ" "
  5. Conclusion: the century ends and new tensions arise
Part II From 1800 to 1860
4 The intensification of the pluraity of worlds debate after 1800
  I. Between the deism of Thomas Paine and the evangelism of Thomas Chalmers
  2. "All the world is acquainted with Dr. Chalmers' splendid Astronomical Discourses"
  3. "Responses to Chalmers, especially the one world of Alexander Maxwell and the many, many worlds of Thomas Dick"
  4. "Saving the selenites, including evidence that R. A. Locke's "moon hoax" was not a hoax"
5 The decades before Whewell
  I. "Pluarlism in Britian: Would nature "tip a hogshead to fill a wineglass"?"
  2. "Extraterrestrials and Americans: Given modern astronomy, "Who can be a Calvinist or who an Atheist"?"
  3. "Conseptions on the Continent: "Who dwells on yonder golden stars?"
  4. Conclusion: the half-century surveyed
6 William Whewell: pluralism questioned
  I. "Whewell's plurist period: "No one can resist the temptation..."
  2. "Whewell's dialogue "Astronomy and Religion": a way around a "desolate" and "dark thought inhabitants of other spheres"
  3. "Whewell in "combat against all the rational inhabitants of other spheres"
  4. "Whewell's first critic, his earliest ally, and "the most curious of all [his] unpublished pieces"
  5. "Conclusions concerning Whewell's Essay, "the cleverest of all the author's numerous writings"
7 The Whewell debate: pluralism defended
  I. "Sir David Brewster: "why is he so savage?"
  2. "Rev. Baden Powell's attempt "to hold the balance"
  3. "Responses from astronomers and mathematicians: "a plurality of opponents" of Whewell's "singular" book"
  4. "Responses from geologists: "Geology versus Astronomy"
  5. "Responses of other scientists: "mercurial in Mercury, saturnine in Saturn, and anything but jovial in Jupiter" "
  6. "Religious responses: "a Bethlehem in Venus, a Gethsemane in Jupiter, a Calvary in Saturn"? "
  7. "Pluralism and the public: other responses to Whewell "who has so electrified us all" "
  8. "Conclusion: "a most elaborate and spirited controversy" "
Part III From 1860 to 1900
8 New approaches to an ancient question
  I. "Developments from the 1860's, especially the "new astronomy" "
  2. Richard Proctor: Anglo-American popularizer of astronomy and pluralist of evolving views
  3. "Camille Flammarion: a "French Proctor"? "
  4. The continuing quest for lunar life and some surprising side effects
  5. The signal question: sending messages to the moon or Mars
  6. "The message of the meteorites: "From World to World/The Seeds were whirled"? "
9 Religious and scientific discussions
  I. "French religious writings: is man a "citizen of the sky" ? "
  2. "German religious writings: "Heathens, Christians, atheists. . . hand in hand" in the pluralist cause? "
  3. "British religious writings: "What links are ours with orbs that are/So resolutely far"? "
  4. "American religious writings: "The world! H'm! there's billions of them!" "
  5. "Scientific writings: the prevalence of "Proctorian pluralism" "
10 The battle over the planet of war
  I. "The commencement of the canal controversy: enter Giovanni Schiaparell: "a gazer gifted with that supreme power of brain-directed vision" "
  2. "Mars oppositions from 1877 to 1884: SchiaparelIi's "curious drawings" and the responses of Green and Maunder "
  3. "The oppositions from 1886 to 1892: Schiaparelli supported and Mars masked with "grotesque polygonations and geminations"
  4. "The canal controversy in 1894: enter Percival Lowell, who "has taken the popular side of the most popular scientific question afloat"
  5. "The las oppositions of the century" why Schiaparelli was finding Mars a "frightful and almost disgusting subject"
  6. "The early oppositions of our century and the disappearence of the "marvelous legend of the canals of Mars"
  7. "Conclusion: "the canal fallacy...relegated into the myths of the past"
11 Some conclusions concerning the unconcluded debate
  I. Extent and character of the extraterrestrial life debate before 1917
  2. "The unfalsifiability, flexibility, and richness in explanatory power of many pluralist theories"
  3. The importance of empirical evidence
  4. Recurrent fallacies and linguistic abuses
  5. The place of the idea of a plurality of worlds in the history of astronomy
  6. Interactions between extraterrestrial life ideas and religion
  7. A concluding comment
Appendix: bibliography of books on the question of a plurality of worlds published before 1917
Name Index
Subject Index
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)