"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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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 significanceAand tragedyAof species extinction. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.AGloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
OK, I am in the obvious minority with this review, but it's how I see it.
This is a work filled with broad, sweeping suppositions, yet it seems that as always the devil is in... Read more
This book is somewhat difficult to read without proper background knowledge on some of these subjects. Read morePublished on March 11 2003
The only reason I give this book a 3-star rating is that it is already becoming dated by the blinding speed at which exoplanetary science is developing. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2003 by Robert Harding
This book contains a wealth of interesting information and I recommend it as a source to anyone interested in the subject. Read morePublished on Dec 27 2002 by Peter Kretschmar
While I think that it would be fascinating if we do someday discover evidence of an inhabited planet around a distant star, I think that the authors Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee... Read morePublished on Dec 7 2002 by Matthew P. Whitehead
In addition to arguing very convincingly for a surprising conclusion, it's one of the most lucid introductions to Astronomy, Geology, and Evolutionary Microbiology in existence. Read morePublished on Oct. 16 2002 by Carlos Cortés
I don't own and I haven't read the book but I agree with the authors that "... while simple, microbial life will be very widespread in the universe, complex animal or plant... Read morePublished on Sept. 26 2002 by Renato S. N. Costa
I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Although I am a believer in directed evolution (by a Creator), it was enjoyable to see "pure materialists" coming to the conclusion... Read morePublished on Sept. 14 2002 by Altar Boy
For the authors even the simplest animal life is uncommon in the universe, and intelligent life extremely rare. Read morePublished on Sept. 1 2002 by Luc REYNAERT