978-0-684-84937-9 / 9780684849379

Life Beyond Earth


Publisher:Simon & Schuster



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About the book:

Rock-solid science writer Timothy Ferris has covered this ground before. In the two-hour PBS documentary that he wrote and narrated--which shares the title, text, and many of the images of this generously illustrated book--Ferris tackles two age-old questions about the potentially universal nature of life: Are we alone, and, if not, is anybody listening?

He's quick to warn that Life Beyond Earth isn't a "textbook," that its "aim is not so much to provide answers as to help improve the quality of the questions we all ask." Given that caveat, what Ferris has put together here is a very approachable--and certainly very beautiful--survey of the evolution of life on Earth, and the implications of that for possibly finding tenacious pockets of life elsewhere, maybe even in our own solar system.

Ferris begins with the twin assumptions that we know now that life is tougher than we ever imagined, and that we "should never underestimate the scope of human ignorance." From there, he uses creatively illustrated examples to explain everything from Earth's geological and biological timeline (with a Porsche C4S on 5 kilometers of salt flats) to why Fermi's question might deserve a good-hearted poke (as he waits for an uninvited lobster to crawl onto his plate at a dinner table in Florence). Ferris has also pulled together scores of gorgeous photographs from Hubble and other sources, eye-opening if brief accounts of explorers past and present (both human and robotic), and short observations from scientists in multiple disciplines.

Unless you're already well-read in the subject, you'll likely find that Ferris achieves his goal. Life Beyond Earth doesn't just raise questions, it raises particularly interesting ones that you might not have even thought to ask. --Paul Hughes

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