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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For THINKERS Only!!!
This book has a number of good features --
(1) References: over twenty-five pages that mainly consist of recent journal articles written by respected scientists.
(2) Two 2-page introductions that summarize the entire book. These are entitled "Dead Zones of the Universe" (where Life As We Know It, LAWKI, is postulated not to exist) and "Rare Earth...
Published on Aug. 20 2003 by Stephen Pletko

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rare Earth---Provocative but Disappointing
_Rare Earth_ is a polemic for the view that complex life, both animals and higher planets, is rare in the Milky Way Galaxy and perhaps even in the Universe. Unfortunately, it fails to provide convincing evidence for this view, is often marked by sloppy writing, and in places borders on being wrong.
As an example of the latter, the authors seem to imply that the...
Published on Sept. 13 2000 by J Lazio


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For THINKERS Only!!!, Aug. 20 2003
By 
Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This book has a number of good features --
(1) References: over twenty-five pages that mainly consist of recent journal articles written by respected scientists.
(2) Two 2-page introductions that summarize the entire book. These are entitled "Dead Zones of the Universe" (where Life As We Know It, LAWKI, is postulated not to exist) and "Rare Earth Factors" (18 factors that may be unique to Earth and that permit LAWKI). These provide a kind of roadmap for the first ten chapters of the book.
(3) The first ten chapters are very detailed and build-up (using both historical theories and data as well as recent new theories and data) the summary information mentioned in (2) above.
(4) The last three chapters are particularly interesting. Here we get more aquainted with the authors' Rare Earh Hypothesis (microbial life is common in the universe, but multicellular animal life is rare) and introduced to the Rare Earth Equation (which challenges the assumptions of the famous Drake equation).
(5) The honesty of the book. The authors state, "Perhaps Earth is not rare after all but is simply one variant in a nearly infinite assemblage of planets with life." In other words, they acknowledge that life as we DON'T know it may possibly exist.
In conclusion, for those thinkers who want to read a book on the cutting edge of modern scientific investigation, this book is for you!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gloomy picture for us Trekkies!!, Aug. 22 2003
By 
This review is from: Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (Paperback)
I both hate & love this book. I think it is a must read. Like all reviewers here, I am one of those who hopes that it's a "Star Trek" universe out there but unlike other reviewers on this board, I do not think that this book will get outdated anytime soon.
This book without trying, seems to partially reconcile the 'Creation' & 'Evolution' hypothesis. It does this by sticking to the 'Evolution' script but listing powerful arguments as to why 'Life' as we know it may be unique or at least rare. In the face of mounting evidence, perhaps the church could support this hypothesis without losing legitimacy.
The hypothesis is not built on one single argument & therein lies its strength. The book starts by making a clear distinction between microbial & animal life and concedes quickly that the former may be quite common around the universe. Animal life on the other hand, requires a fortuitous alignment of the stars and planets :)
The first concept explored in this regard is that of a 'Habitable Zone'(HZ). Off the 3 types of galaxies, only large spiral galaxies are likely to host life. The other two types are either too dense (globular galaxies) or too old (elliptical galaxies & small clusters), lacking the heavy elements necessary to sustain habitable conditions. The former is a problem of overcrowding, too much sun (literally), gravity, harmful radiation & frequent cataclysmic events (supernovae, black holes etc.). The latter would mean a world without a heated core, mostly composed of hydrogen & helium. Think of the Sun & Jupiter, what are the odds of life in these two places.
After eliminating all but spiral galaxies, the hypothesis also does the same to systems within spiral galaxies. Too close to the core and you have the same problems faced within globular galaxies, too far & you have the environment similar to an elliptical galaxy, i.e., too few heavy metals. That leaves only the arms of spiral galaxies as likely habitats for complex life.
Within the HZ of galaxies, planets also have to be formed within the HZ of their star. Too close & they're toast (all water evaporates and escapes into space), too far and they are too cold to sustain anything but microbial life. Additionally it requires a star with certain properties, a certain size (only 5% of stars are the required size, most stars in the universe unlike our Sun are too small) and a high percentage of heavy metals (again a rare combination).
Finally, the roles played by the Moon & Jupiter in supporting life on earth. The Moon stabilizes the rotation of the Earth. Imagine a basketball rolling on a floor rotating in varying directions as opposed to a top, rotating on a fixed axis. Without the Moon, the poles & equator would be constantly shifting. Our planet would be covered by water, temperatures & seasons would be unpredictable. Without Jupiter (because of its size & gravitational pull) attracting and capturing most celestial objects on a collision course with Earth, there would be many more large bodies crashing on earth and threatening life. You know what happened the last time this happened, ask Mr. T-Rex.
Even assuming all these factors are duplicated, there is the additional factor of a time period. This ranges from the time the solar system has cooled down & the planets settled into stable orbits to the end when the star runs out of fuel & dies. Complex life has this time span to evolve, live & likely perish.
The Rare Earth hypothesis is exactly that, it is not a law. Ward & Brownlee make a strong case, one whose implications I don't like but are nevertheless persuasive. If you are students of science, the origin and future of mankind, I would strongly recommend you read this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars NASA Will Never Like This Book!, Feb. 15 2004
By 
David B Richman (Mesilla Park, NM USA) - See all my reviews
Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee have written a very thought-provoking book in "Rare Earth." They have, in fact, given voice to some thoughts that had occurred to me and to a lot of others quite some time ago - namely "Where is everybody?" Flying saucer enthusiasts and alien abduction aficionados aside, most of us who think about such things have wondered why no alien civilization's radio transmissions have not obviously reached planet earth by now if alien civilizations were so common. Also we are starting to wonder where life exists in our solar system outside of Earth.
When I was in my teens I eagerly kept track of every launch of a spacecraft. I dreamed of even becoming an astronomer specializing in planetary geology. But my true love was biology and the thought of a possible alien biological system was fascinating. I was soon disillusioned. First the veil of Venus was lifted and where swamps and dinosaur-like creatures roamed in science fiction was a barren acid and heat scorched version of Dante's Inferno. Mars was also found to be a volcanic version of the earth's moon, except with weather (dust storms mostly), pole caps of carbon dioxide and water ice, and a very thin atmosphere. The temperature of close to 100 degrees F. below zero did not seem promising and still does not. Thus the civilizations of Mars envisioned by Lowell disappeared into the Martian dust (as they had started to even before the first space probes). Then the moons Titan (Saturn) and Europa (Jupiter) were proposed as abodes of life, however weird, and a Martian meteorite with strange "nano-bacteria" was brought out. The latter "nano-bacteria" have become dubious at best and the moons are looking less promising by the day. Titan may have such a smoggy atmosphere and be so cold as to be certainly questionable as an abode for life. In addition to this, recent reports indicate that Europa is covered with a layer of concentrated sulfuric acid (possibly from the neighboring moon Io, which has sulfur volcanoes on its surface) and hydrogen peroxide- not exactly a good place for living things! To top it off some scientists think that the ice on Europa may actually cover a sea of sulfuric acid with a pH close to 0!
If we cannot find even primitive living things (bacteria, lichens, fungi) on other planets in our system we may have to face the fact that life, while it may exist on numerous planets, is not nearly as common and as accessible as some would have it and that "civilizations" are even less common.
Why is this? Ward and Brownlee have provided detailed answers, which, even if their formulae are somewhat flawed (as one reviewer suggested), are persuasive. We have to keep in mind that we do not know how long civilizations last or how often they occur but do not develop our type of technology. We are up against billion of years of time and trillions of cubic light years of space. Star Trek aside, we are not even sure that interstellar travel will ever be possible, so we may never know for sure what is out there.
As Ward and Brownlee point out, to even have a planet with the possibility of life we have to have several conditions met. First planets revolving around multiple stars probably do not last long because of tidal effects and if they do life might have to cope with radical changes in surface temperature. Given that, we still have a number of candidate stars and have even found a number of such stars with planets (most of which are huge, some even by Jupiter standards). We also need planets within a star's habitable zone (assuming the star is not unstable and lasts long enough for the development of life). Then contingency has to allow for the development of living forms sometime during the life of the planet. To get more complex life than bacteria we need several billion years and perhaps a large moon. It gets even dicier if we want intelligent life, and even then we may have intelligent ocean-dwelling creatures who never develop radio and thus may not be detectable. Even if radio waves are produced by a civilization, we need to exist ourselves within that civilization's survival time frame (or actually light years later).
Ward and Brownlee have provided, I think, some very good reasons why we are unlikely to find multicellular life on nearby planets or advanced technologies on planets even around distant stars. Even if life is fairly abundant in the universe (and I think it probably may be), planets with life (even at the bacterial level) may not be anywhere near as abundant as lifeless ones. This is not a reason to embrace creationism, as some would have it, but is simply a property of our universe. While I wish it were not so, I fear we cannot argue with the logic of this- especially with the little evidence we now possess. Of course one cannot completely rule out the possibility that Ward and Brownlee have missed something, but that is a present a meager hope.
Read this book if you are interested in why complex life may be uncommon in the universe.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rare Earth---Provocative but Disappointing, Sept. 13 2000
By 
J Lazio (Virginia USA) - See all my reviews
_Rare Earth_ is a polemic for the view that complex life, both animals and higher planets, is rare in the Milky Way Galaxy and perhaps even in the Universe. Unfortunately, it fails to provide convincing evidence for this view, is often marked by sloppy writing, and in places borders on being wrong.
As an example of the latter, the authors seem to imply that the Sun has little or no interaction with the Galaxy's spiral arms and that the inter-arm regions of a spiral galaxy have a lower stellar density than inside the spiral arms. Neither is correct. It is true that the Sun is not now located in a spiral arm. However, the Sun orbits the Galactic center, taking about 250 million years to do so. The Galaxy's spiral arms do not rotate with the stars. The Sun therefore probably passes through at least one spiral arm every orbit. Over its lifetime the Sun has made approximately 20 orbits, plenty of time to pass through multiple spiral arms. Indeed the authors seem to be unaware of a proposal that massive extinctions in the Earth's past were caused by passage of the Sun through a spiral arm.
In many places the presentation also seems muddled. If we are told that Jupiter is more than 300 times the mass of the Earth (p. 235), do we really need to be told less than three pages later that Jupiter's mass is 318 Earth masses (p. 238)?
While reading it, I kept finding myself saying, That's not right, or, But what about ....? It's truly disappointing because the title is so provocative and because we are learning so much about the formation of planets and the origin of life on the Earth. However, having read the book, I certainly would not have purchased it initially.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars From Blind Belief, Dec 18 2000
By 
Holy Olio "holy_olio" (Grand Rapids, MI USA) - See all my reviews
These authors have struck on a perfect book idea -- based on no data whatsoever from Earth's (non-existent) interstellar expeditions, they've concluded that complex life resulted quite by accident from a large set of circumstances unique to Earth. This assumes that the Earth has had basically the same conditions, free of catastrophes, and that assumption is laughable at this point.

I noticed that even in the multi-starred reviews scientific errors are cited. Considering that the authors' conclusions miraculously match their original assumptions, I'm not too surprised to read that, although the high ratings on this title do surprise.

Fossil evidence shows that the Moon couldn't possibly have arisen from an impact on the proto-Earth. Nautilus shells today show about 30 daily growth lines per "month". 420 million years ago they had a mere nine days. The Moon's orbital period was nine days, its distance was less than half its present value, and Earth's rate of rotation was faster. [Larry Gedney, "When the Days Were Shorter", Alaska Science Forum]

Since most of the distance between Earth and Moon has accumulated in the past 420 million years, it's impossible that the Moon was born of impact four billion years ago. That's the hard evidence. The alternatives include that the Earth has had a series of moons and lost the others (Hoerbiger), or that the current Moon is the only one Earth has had, but has lost it and recaptured it at least once, or that the Earth was formerly in proximity to a different larger body (i.e., not a satellite of the Sun).

The simplest model is that the Moon must have been captured sometime during or shortly before the most recent 420 million year interval -- less than ten per cent of the age of the Earth. Microbial life on Earth is believed to be attested in microfossils at least 3 billion years old. Therefore, the Moon is irrelevant to the origin of life on Earth -- unless one wishes to assume repeated captures and losses of the Moon.

Ward and Brownlee think that the Moon has always been around and has been one of the indispensible factors in the rise and evolution of life. It's hogwash. Even without the Moon, the Sun produces one third of the tides -- the tides being W&B's most important consequence of the existence of the Moon.

Since a satellite in prograde orbit and rotation will enjoy a momentum transfer from the parent body, the Earth must have formed closer to the Sun, meaning that the tides (provided there were seas) from the Sun alone were larger four and a half billion years ago.

The book is an elaborate apologia for Darwin. The gradualist drivel -- tides, glaciation, continental drift (oops, "plate tectonics"), axis wobble, etc -- are there as props, but are likewise there to be propped.

While not a creationist or young-Earther myself, the hostility toward some of the better reviews which expressed such a view is pretty much what I'd expect. The similar high ratings for the title by reviewers of both stripes may betray the same level of credulity that could buy into this book's claims. Some creationists reject life on other worlds because the Bible sez humans were created by God. The secular fans of this title reject life on other worlds because that could open the door to UFOs, transluminal space flight, ETs, and other things that they claim to know are impossible.

While this book may prop up a few different believers, it isn't scientific. Lovers of science fiction may enjoy it. Those interested in the sociology of belief may find it, uh, indispensible.

No paperback version has come out (as of early January 2003). I'll also be surprised to see subsequent titles by these authors. Instead of this, read this one in its new edition:

The Deep, Hot Biosphere
by Thomas Gold
foreword by Freeman Dyson
[0387952535]

Also, do a websearch for Louis Frank (comets).

[revised my original review from late August 2001]
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Materialist hypothesis: Rare Earth, Sept. 14 2002
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 (by inference) that we may be the only life in the universe wondering who else is looking up. Makes this planet pretty special (and for a materialist - pretty lonely). Perhaps man's existence has a greater purpose (and responsibility) in this universe and on this planet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another viewpoint, July 20 2000
By 
biged "bigedtex" (Pearland, TX United States) - See all my reviews
If Lyell and Darwin are your gods and Stephen Jay Gould is their prophet then "Rare Earth", a theological exposition by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, is a book for you. Don't worry about your faith being undermined by any iconoclastic observations. Messrs. Ward and Brownlee are as straight arrow as they come, true believers, politicaly correct academicians, the products of modern departments of geology and astronomy. (Hey, you doubt this evaluation? Ask either of them for Velikovsky's first name. If you don't know it, shame, shame!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Long, rambling, unfocused, July 9 2000
By 
S. Brown "s_brown" (Potsdam, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Rare Earth is an overview of the complexities of, what we consider, life. Unfortunately, the book can easily be summarized in one sentence: life may be rare because Planet Earth may be rare. This simple statement may seem flippant, but the authors really offer no more conclusive information than this simple statement.
The book does have some nice summaries of astrobiology, evolution, plate tectonics, snowball earth events, etc. If you are in the simple sciences (physics, astronomy, biology etc.), this book may provide a good read because there is a lot of theory but little real information. If you are looking for analysis and solid conclusions, this book will be a clear disappointment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps a bit too wordy., June 14 2000
By A Customer
This is a fascinating topic and the authors did a good job of explaining their thesis. For the lay reader, however, some parts may be a bit technical and explained in too much detail. I almost think this could have been better presented to the non-scientist reader as a long magazine article rather than a full book.
However, that is minor criticism; there were many intriguing ideas presented in this book. And I should really give it 5 stars -- the extra star awarded to the authors for debunking the ideas of that pompous populist, Carl Sagan (I can just hear him saying..."Only one civilization in the galaxy? NO! Billions and billions and billions...").
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Right Conclusion, But Not Always The Right Reasons, March 12 2000
By 
S. Edwards (Portland, OR) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Professors Ward and Brownlee come to the right conclusion - that we have an incredibly unique planet, and the chance that there is complex life elsewhere in the universe is just about zero - but they don't always use the best evidence to get there. They rely on evolution and all the things that have to fall into place for evolution to happen. They talk about the many catastrophic extinctions that have happened during earth's history, but still there was supposedly enough time for evolution to happen. They even spend a whole chapter trying to explain the away the Cambrian Explosion and it's bad implications for evolution, but to no avail. All this, even though there is no scientific proof - from the fossil record to biochemistry - that evolution could be the process by which life formed and then diversified in the first place. Another thing abou this book that is intriguing is how they talk so often about all the 'amazing coincidences' that had to happen in order for Earth to be able to support complex life. Earth "just happened" to be in the habitable zone in the solar system, plate tectonics "just happened" to develop, the atmosphere "just happened" to be just the right composition, the moon "just happened" to be just the right size, and so on. There are actually currently 118 factors that have to be fine tuned - some cannot vary by more than one part in 10^37 - in order for life to exist at all. As scientists, one would think the authors could see that they should take all those factors into consideration, and then they might come to the realization that the likelihood of all those factors coming together at just the right places and times by chance alone is absolutely zero. However, maybe they don't like the implications. As other people have already pointed out, Hugh Ross has been making this point for years in his books "The Creator and the Cosmos" and "The Genesis Question." Maybe now that secular scientists have finally realized what Christian scientists have been saying for a long time, people will listen.
Other than that, there is some great information in this book. The chapters on habitable zones, plate tectonics, and the importance of the moon and Jupiter to life are fantastic, and contain a lot of good information written in a way that a no scientist can understand. Overall, a very interesting read, and a real eye-opener for those who have always assumed that there is life elsewhere in the universe.
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Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe
Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Donald Brownlee (Paperback - Jan. 16 2004)
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