If you have a serious interest in SETI, this book provides the wide, eye-opening overview that some other books lack. I thought it was a must buy for anyone with a serious interest in the field.
I've got lots of books about SETI, including a copy of Iosif Shklovskii and Carl Sagan's 'Intelligent Life in the Universe'. Comparing that book to this new one, it's fascinating to see how much has changed in SETI, and how much hasn't. The technology available now allows searches across billions of narrowband channels with rapid analysis, searches are beginning at optical wavelengths for laser signals, while a million people contribute to the greatest super-computing project ever in the form of SETI@home. And yet the same uncertainties remain, from Fermi's Paradox to the never-ending battle for funding.
Edited by the SETI League's H Paul Shuch, SETI: Past Present and Future features essays, articles and technical treatises from 26 experts in the field, including the SETI Institute's Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak, former head of NASA's SETI programme John Billingham, astronomer Claudio Maccone, science fiction writers David Brin and Stephen Baxter, anthropologist Kathryn Denning, Shuch himself, and many others. A few of the chapters are highly technical and mathematical, but the vast majority are accessible to the intelligent layman. As Shuch says in his preface, "We, the authors, invite you to seek your own level of comfort, and then to challenge yourself, to reach beyond it."
Some chapters have been published elsewhere, but most are new (to this reviewer). The best chapters include overviews of Project Cyclops and the mystery of the `Wow!' signal by the man who discovered it; excellent pieces about the SETI League's Project Argus and how amateurs can create their own network of radio telescopes; a remarkable history of SETI at NASA by John Billingham; cultural aspects of SETI by Shostak, Denning and Brin; and a delightful surprise in the final pages with a lost letter by one of the founding fathers of the field, the late Philip Morrison. There are also several essays devoted to the controversy over messaging extraterrestrial intelligence (METI), with articles by Alexander Zaitsev and David Brin arguing for and against METI respectively. It's evident there is still a gaping chasm between the two ideologies.
What I really liked about this book is the way it not only looks back at the past half a century of SETI, but looks forward with speculations as to where SETI may take us. Good, thought-provoking stuff!