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Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in…

Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe

by Peter Ward, Donald Brownlee

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329833,583 (3.92)5
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This is a very good book. But don´t expect much about extraterrestrial life and specifics about why life is uncommon in the universe. The book deals mostly on why life is common on Earth. It gives a much detailed account on the history of our planet and the history of life on Earth. Very well written and very nice to read. ( )
  elviomedeiros | Jul 31, 2011 |
This is a rare book, a book on science which is informative and inspiring without really trying to be. If we destroy 5% of species on earth, we may be doing a lot more than just that, we may be destroying 5% of the species in this sector of the galaxy.The authors explain a wide variety of different topics in several different disciplines in a non-dogmatic way, from astronomy and physics to biology and geography, just laying out what we think we know and how it relates to the formation of life on earth. This is a book in which I learned not just one new thing, but a whole bunch of different things that all relate to the question of the origin of complex life. (Simple life forms, they argue, may be quite common in the universe.) This book is sufficiently good so that it doesn't matter that much to me if the book is true (although it is quite convincing); I learned so much that the "refutation," if it comes, will have to build on what I learned in this book. A lot of the book is taken up with the single case of life that we know the best -- life on earth. There is a lot that goes into supporting intelligent life on earth besides just life itself. There's plate tectonics, the balance of water and continents, mass extinctions, a unique moon that stabilizes the tilt of the earth, Jupiter, and other things. And we don't really know what's really behind the Cambrian explosion, or the development of higher life forms (plants and animals, for example) from the microbes. So this really was a fascinating book. ( )
  KeithAkers | Jun 5, 2010 |
Princeton geologist Adam Maloof has chosen to discuss Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Don Brownlee on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Earth History.

“…This book looks at a classic Carl Sagan theory that says if there are zillions of stars and bazillions of planets in the universe, then there must be at least millions of habitable planets with complex life. But the book looks beyond statistics and considers in detail the series of "coincidences" that occurred to make complex life on earth. To do so, they must go through many of the important events that occurred in Earth history. …”

The full interview is available here: http://fivebooks.com/interviews/adam-maloof-on-earth-history ( )
  FiveBooks | Apr 19, 2010 |
Microbial life is very common in the universe, but complex animal life is exceedingly rare. ( )
  Benthamite | Oct 11, 2008 |
A nice primer on astrobiology, with emphasis on the hypothesis that life larger than microbes is rare in the universe. It definitely could have benefited from a good science writer as a third author, though. ( )
  wanack | Jun 28, 2008 |
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Peter Wardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brownlee, Donaldmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0387952896, Paperback)

"Do you feel lucky? Well do ya?" asked Dirty Harry. Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee think all of us should feel lucky. Their rare Earth hypothesis predicts that while simple, microbial life will be very widespread in the universe, complex animal or plant life will be extremely rare. Ward and Brownlee admit that "It is very difficult to do statistics with an N of 1. But in our defense, we have staked out a position rarely articulated but increasingly accepted by many astrobiologists."

Their new science

is the field of biology ratcheted up to encompass not just life on Earth but also life beyond Earth. It forces us to reconsider the life of our planet as but a single example of how life might work, rather than as the only example.

The revolution in astrobiology during the 1990s was twofold. First, scientists grew to appreciate how incredibly robust microbial life can be, found in the superheated water of deep-sea vents, pools of acid, or even within the crust of the Earth itself. The chance of finding such simple life on other bodies in our solar system has never seemed more realistic. But second, scientists have begun to appreciate how many unusual factors have cooperated to make Earth a congenial home for animal life: Jupiter's stable orbit, the presence of the Moon, plate tectonics, just the right amount of water, the right position in the right sort of galaxy. Ward and Brownlee make a convincing if depressing case for their hypothesis, undermining the principle of mediocrity (or, "Earth isn't all that special") that has ruled astronomy since Copernicus. --Mary Ellen Curtin

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"With a new preface and updated throughout, this first paperback edition of Ward and Brownlee's ground-breaking and controversial Rare Earth marshals data from geology, astronomy, and biology to put forth a radical hypothesis: While primitive organisms such as microbes are very likely abundant across the galaxies, advanced life, depending as it does on a myriad of special circumstances, is altogether another story. In a thought-provoking departure from the widely held view that there must be countless civilizations of intelligent beings out there, Ward and Brownlee suggest that multicellular life-forms, let alone life-forms with whom we'd be able to communicate, must be exceedingly rare."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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