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The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets Hardcover – 5 Feb 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (5 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009367
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 733,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"The search for life beyond the Earth, and the studyof planets orbiting other stars, are surley among the most fascinating topics in twent-first century science. Alan Boss offers a clear and masterly guide to these exciting and fast-moving subjects." --Sir Martin Rees, Astonomer Royal of Great Britian


"This is top-notch-and-timely popular science meets page-turning political intrigue."

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Star Man on 16 April 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a book that in almost diary form tells the story over the last decades of development and research in the field of exoplanets. Exoplanets are planets found orbiting other stars than our Sun, and a prerequisite for finding life outside the solar system. The author has participated in this search and gives a detailed account of the important events presentations meetings successes and frustrations during this period. It is a very interesting story into how modern research is carried out in Astronomy and it tells about new disciplines like astrobiology. The book can be recommended to people who are interested in modern astronomy and want to see how this fascinating new filed came to be.
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Format: Hardcover
This book gives an excellent history of the search and discovery of exoplanets, those rotating around stars covering the different methods used in the search. It also gives a feel for the competition that the US scientists feel that they are in with those from other countries-especially Europe- to be the first with the discovery of the first Earth size planet-especially in a habitable zone. It is up to date at August 2008.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Garry Paton on 12 Sep 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall, it's a good read - however, I feel the author spent too much time and detail on the financial and 'political' issues concerning NASA rather than the actual science of exoplanets.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Are We Alone in the Universe? Finding Earth-like Planets Will Help Us Learn the Answer 15 Jan 2010
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Ask any group of people, regardless of the group: "do you believe that there is life beyond Earth?" The answer is always a resounding, "yes." Ask them what evidence they have for believing this and the response is less enthusiastic. Notwithstanding the wackos who claim visitations of aliens, there is not one scintilla of evidence thus far produced to suggest that life on this planet has company anywhere else in the universe. That fact may change soon, and "The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets" chronicles the process whereby this may happen. It is a stunning story, recasting scientists as detectives developing and using new tools to expand knowledge of our exciting universe.

Scientist Alan Boss, on the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, has found a second career as an interpreter of the scientific enterprise for the general public. His earlier book, "Looking for Earths: The Race to Find New Solar Systems" (Wiley, 1998), successfully opened the search for the first discoveries of planets around other stars to a much broader audience than ever reads the scholarly literature. "The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets" continues that theme, carrying the story to the present. In the process, Boss chronicles how the first detection of extrasolar planets rocked the scientific world in 1995 and has given impetus to the search. Using new instruments, technologies, and techniques a loose confederation of scientists around the world are engaged in detecting and cataloguing the number of extrasolar planets around other stars. More than 330 have thus far been discovered, but all of them are giants similar to Jupiter and Saturn rather than terrestrial, Earth-like plants.

That may change soon, however, and Boss is convinced that in the next few years we will find Earths in abundance, some of which will be enough like ours to conclude that they are indisputably alive. Boss insists that life is not only possible elsewhere in the universe but is the normal state. He may well be right, and this book is an explication of how we came to this point in time as well as an analysis of how and why expectations for the discovery of Earth-like planets are so positive.

He discusses how scientific theories about planetary formation have changed radically in the past decade, leading many to conclude that the conditions that spawned life on Earth also took place elsewhere. Boss also uses the excitement of seeking life beyond Earth as the fundamental rationale for continued support in the United States for a robust space exploration program. Failure to do so, Boss contends, would mean that the U.S. would be a spectator in what could arguably be the most profound discovery in human history--extraterrestrial life.

Alan Boss may well be right; indeed, I hope he is. Perhaps it is somewhat like the tagline from the "X-Files," the 1990s television series concerning the search for extraterrestrial visitation of Earth, "I Want to Believe." But hopes have been dashed so often in looking for life beyond Earth that I must, if only for sanity's sake, take a skeptical view and not get too excited by the possibility.

I am reminded of the classic cognitive dissonance model defined by Leon Festinger in his seminal 1956 book, "When Prophecy Fails." Festinger asked the question, what happens when a prediction to which a social group subscribes fails completely and without ambiguity? What happens to its faithful supporters? Reason would suggest that members of the group would abandon the ideas that proved faulty. But true believers do not automatically abandon their cause when reality intrudes in discomforting ways. They rarely admit that they were wrong or change their behavior. Instead they modify just enough of their beliefs to hang on to its essence. We have seen this many times in the search for life beyond Earth. We expected to find life on Mars in 1976 when Viking landed there. We found that Mars is dead. We modified belief only modestly to suggest that perhaps Mars once long ago harbored life and began looking for signs of its extinction, and then we began looking for evidence of past water on Mars, the fundamental building block of life, and continue doing so to the present.

What has happened repeatedly, we adjust our belief ever so slightly. But we never seem to consider the possibility that we might be alone in the universe. Is Alan Boss engaging in wishful thinking by believing that Earth-like planets beyond this solar system are common? Will his predictions prove out, or once again are we placing hope in efforts that will eventually fail to detect evidence of life? I hope the answer to both questions is "no." The only way to know is to continue efforts to learn the answer. Like Boss, I hope the U.S. continues to pursue this question aggressively. Meantime, I will remain a hopeful skeptic.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Argues that we're on the verse of finding many Earth-like planets around other stars 14 Mar 2009
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Hardcover
THE CROWDED UNIVERSE: THE SEARCH FOR LIVING PLANETS comes from a renowned astronomer who argues that we're on the verse of finding many Earth-like planets around other stars - planets where life is not just possible, but common. His ideas about planetary formation and life possibilities makes for an outstanding study key to any high school to college-level astronomy collection as well as any general-interest lending library strong in science.
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Not As Good As I Expected 17 Mar 2009
By William J. Hubeny - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I did not buy this book to learn about science budget problems, whose to blame, and the writers political leanings, right or left. I'm am just not interested in those things. I get the feeling the author was writing more to his work associates then the average science reader and book buyer. I expected a book on exo-planets. I did not get what I expected.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Interesting topic, verbose report 31 Mar 2009
By Jay Kirsch - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be a bit disappointing, as it read more like a report to NASA employees than a popular science book.

Although there are tidbits about the science of planet-hunting, there is too much about the politics and budgeting issues at NASA. Also, the reading level is inconsistent. On one extreme the basics of doppler shift and the light year are explained at a junior high school level, but on the other extreme there are a lot of astronomical terms left vaguely defined.

I wish Dr. Boss and his team good luck with the Kepler mission, as it is sure to yield some fascinating results. I just won't read the final report though.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Comprehensive Work for the Astronomy Buff 3 Dec 2012
By Corey A. Geving - Published on
I enjoyed this book a lot, but it isn't for everyone. It's less about the exoplanets and more about our struggle to find them - hence the sub-title "The Race to Find Life Beyond Earth". It's an engaging book, meticulously written in sequential journal-entry format, about the planet-finding process - with all of its flaws. It left me a bit adrift in the end, mainly because it was published right around the time Kepler, the most ambitious planet-finding space observatory ever built, was launched. As a work covering the history of planet-finding before Kepler, it is perfect. I'd like to see Boss publish a similar work in the future, perhaps nearer the end of Kepler's extended mission, as his ability to synthesize and communicate the findings of the world-spanning planet-hunter tribe is both impressive and invaluable in this very technical field.
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