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Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional - and What that Means for Life in the Universe Hardcover – 1 May 2014

17 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (1 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848316569
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848316560
  • Product Dimensions: 22.3 x 2.3 x 13.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 457,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Very readable' -- Matt Ridley The Times '[Waltham's] arguments are compelling and the book is a delight to read.' Independent 'A lively and well argued antidote to a widespread view that advanced life could arise frequently and in many places in the known Universe.' -- Richard Fortey 'David Waltham takes us on a delightful tour of the various factors that influence planetary habitability and the evolution of advanced life. That he thinks the prospects for it are unlikely is all the more reason for us to go up to space and take a good look!' -- James Kasting Penn State University, author of How to Find a Habitable Planet

About the Author

David Waltham obtained a first-class degree and a PhD in Physics before moving into the oil industry in the early 1980s. This industrial experience led to his appointment, in 1986, as a lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he became Head of Earth Sciences from 2008-2012.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 May 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
David Waltham has a first class degree and a PhD in physics. He used to work in the oll industry but is now an academic working at Royal Holloway, London University. He has written a delightful book about our planet based on his knowledge of geology. It is a lively antidote to the view that there must be advanced complex life elsewhere in the visible Universe.

Arguments have long raged over whether we are unique as a planet, alone because we are special in a universe estimated to contain a thousand billion billion objects of similar size orbiting hot suns like ours. Common questions to those who argue there must be others llke ours is 'Where are they then?' Why no communication?

The author of this very readable book believes we may be unique because we are lucky. He argues there are many coincidences responsible for our existence. For example, the pressure of anti gravity is very small, nuclear and electrical forces are the right strength and molecular bonds crucial for life are the right strength.

Waltham explains how, unlike Venus, our planet's climate has been very, very benign. The sun's strength is another lucky thing. It has not produced a ten degree rise in average temperature because it has been balanced by a decline in our greenhouse effect as carbon dioxide became scarcer.

The author says there are three possible reasons for our luck. He calls them: God, Gaia and Goldilocks. He favours the last one. It is our Moon that we have to thank for stabilising our spinning and giving us the right length of day and regular seasons to prevent the growth of ice.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jean Michel on 25 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The main thesis of this book is that Earth is a `Lucky Planet' to have ended up in its present situation of supporting an abundance and variety of life; including intelligent life; rather than being a lifeless planet.

The author, David Waltham comes to the topic with a background of a first class degree in Physics, which led to a spell in the oil industry and a subsequent successful academic career in Earth Sciences for nearly 30 years. That being said, the author steps outside the confines of his own core field of expertise to incorporate ideas and concepts from biology and astronomy. Hence the book covers a pretty wide territory to examine and explain the basis of Earth being a `Lucky Planet.' This breadth of survey is both beneficial and necessary to provide the reader with an appreciation of the complex range of factors which have resulted in Earth's pattern of evolution and development.

Whilst other books have considered the scientific reasons which might explain why there is intelligent life on Earth, Waltham's key focus is upon the very long term climatic conditions on the planet. In particular, Waltham takes the view that it is precisely because of relatively stable long-term climatic conditions that life has been able to evolve in the first place.

To support this argument, Waltham draws upon ideas and theories which will be familiar to anyone who has either studied or read about the question of how life first came to be on Earth from a variety of perspectives. Essentially, these include a dependency upon cosmological factors such as the size of our local sun and its associated life cycle; planet formation and associated satellites; the importance of size for a planet and the role of its moon(s).
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE on 7 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It’s been fashionable and perhaps even comforting to believe in the essential unity, benevolence and even environmental-competence of life on Earth. The Gaia hypothesis makes us feel good, but hard-nosed evolutionary biologists and planetary scientists crunch the numbers and just can’t get it to work. Forget the galaxy of a billion friendly alien civilizations, perhaps there’s just one: ourselves. Perhaps we’re just very, very fortunate. Here’s a much abbreviated summary of what David Waltham has to say in this lively and intelligent book.

Our very existence shows that the Earth has experienced life-friendly climatic conditions for billions of years. During this time the output of the sun has increased by 30% while early high levels of greenhouse gases such as methane, water vapour and carbon dioxide have been almost scrubbed from the atmosphere. These changes ought to have produced enormous and lethal climatic variation yet somehow, by some magic, the effects have largely cancelled out.

For some people, this shows that powerful negative feedback mechanisms are at work, stabilising the climate for life. Strange then, that such benign processes are so hard to pin down. The alternative view is that for most planets like the Earth, the climate did indeed transition to fire or ice, with the consequent destruction of any biosphere; the Earth is special and very, very lucky.

Of course, the fact that we’re here at all to make such an observation indicates that for the Earth it could hardly have been otherwise. This is called the principle of Anthropic Selection - to be contrasted with the Principle of Mediocrity, that the Earth is not that special in the universe.

David Waltham systematically takes us through the unique features of the Earth.
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