Pub. Date:
Springer New York
Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe / Edition 1

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

by Peter D. Ward, Donald Brownlee


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

What determines whether complex life will arise on a planet, or even any life at all? Questions such as these are investigated in this groundbreaking book. In doing so, the authors synthesize information from astronomy, biology, and paleontology, and apply it to what we know about the rise of life on Earth and to what could possibly happen elsewhere in the universe. Everyone who has been thrilled by the recent discoveries of extrasolar planets and the indications of life on Mars and the Jovian moon Europa will be fascinated by Rare Earth, and its implications for those who look to the heavens for companionship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780387952895
Publisher: Springer New York
Publication date: 12/10/2003
Edition description: 2000
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 299,444
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

What People are Saying About This

David Levy

A fabulous book! If we're to believe what we see in the movies, extraterrestrials thrive on every world. But this unique book, written by two of the top scientists in the field, tells a different story.

Geoffrey Marcy

It's brilliant...courageous...It's rare in literature and science that a stance goes so far against the grain.
(Dr. Geoffrey W. Marcy, University of California at Berkeley)

Don Johanson

In this engaging and superbly written book, the authors present a carefully reasoned and scientifically astute examination of the age-old question -- 'Are we alone in the Universe?'

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Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
derek.collins on LibraryThing 7 hours ago
There is some really decent science in here. It is a good book to realize the state of life on the Earth and how astrobiologists are investigating the origin of life.Unfortunately, the whole issue is so largely speculative. The authors contradict themselves at times with their conclusions. They frequently make comments like, "since this is the way it happened on Earth we don't see how it could happen elsewhere differently." Conclusions based on a case study of one make accurate predicting possible.
devilwrites on LibraryThing 7 hours ago
I¿m pretty proud of myself. I don¿t generally read non-fiction, and the non-fiction I do read usually has some kind of flavor to it. However, I made an exception for Rare Earth, which is nothing but your usual general science condensed into a theory that Earth may be the only planet in the universe teeming with animal life, let alone intelligent life.I heard of this book during Odyssey 2005 from guest lecturer Allen Steele. He gave a lecture on world-building, and passed out some of the references he had used while creating the solar system and planet for his Coyote series (I say series because at this lecture, he made a few comments that made me suspect a fourth volume is in the works). Rare Earth was one of his titles.The reason I picked it up, aside from general curiosity about the various theories populating the chances of life outside our planet, was also for research material. Not that I had a particular project in mind at the time, but I thought that it would be a good idea to have this book under my belt for future stories (and one current one) that took place on extrasolar planets. Rare Earth has a lot of interesting info. It goes into all kinds of reasons why animal life (the authors are quick to note that they do believe microbial life, like bacteria, is likely very common) is rare in the universe. The writers discuss the Cambrian Explosion, Snowball Earth, plate tectonics, impacts and extinctions, Jupiter, the moon, and the habitable zone of our solar system. All of which is divided into manageable chunks that lead from one section to the other. The writers also continuously repeat their points, just in case you missed them the first time.Given the nature of the book (it¿s more general science than theory), it¿s hard to actually recommend. The hardcover edition was published in 2000, and the trade, which I read, in 2004. There¿s a preface to the trade edition where the authors say that despite then-current observations and discoveries, they pretty much stand by their theories as presented in the book¿indeed, the only corrections made were typos and such. But science has a way of jumping forward, and from recent articles in magazines like ¿New Scientist¿, some of their then-current information is now wrong. The biggest two I noticed were the fact that there have been several terrestrial planets discovered, three of which posted in a 5/17/06 article on New Scientist¿s website, all of them in the same system (and Neptune-sized!). There¿s also a recent discovery that humanity did not originally migrate to North America from the Bering Strait¿older remains, though currently disputed, have been found in South America.Of course, all of this is very recent science. :) But given the fact that I¿ve only recently begun to watch current scientific trends, I was constantly aware of what else could be considered wrong now that wasn¿t when this book was published. Granted, it¿s only been two years, but still, that¿s a long time.But I can¿t fault the book in terms of interesting information, especially since it spawned a few vague story ideas and also gave me some interesting, supportive evidence for my own alien race in my novel. I am also glad to have read this now, before I tackle Darwin¿s The Origin of Species. Don¿t get me wrong, though: for anyone convinced of intelligent life out there in the universe, this book is a total killjoy. The writers admit, at the very end, that they may lack imagination, that all of their evidence is based on what we know from our own planet, and that other worlds and other life may be creatively different. But they don¿t think so. Personally, I think they rejoice in the idea that Earth and her people are not mediocre, that we aren¿t one of many, that on a whole, we are a beautiful, unique, snowflake in the universe. But at least they admit that astrobiology is clearly in its infancy, and that scientifically, we have a long way to go in terms of discoveri
GT-Colorado More than 1 year ago
If you have an interest in the begins of the planet and the solar system in general, then you will enjoy this book. Fascinating the formation of the planet earth some 4.5 billion years ago and to consider the uniqueness of this and the development of complex animal life. The events that had to occur for the billion years of earth's history is astonishing. The various extinctions that have occurred and the appearance of animals after the extinction of the dinosaurs. Throughout the book the authors lay-out very interesting physic, geological, chemical and biological parameters necessary to allow the development of complex animal life. The planet earth is unique and it is truly amazing.
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Rather_B_Reading More than 1 year ago
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.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.