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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When things get bleak . . .
It takes a certain amount of fortitude to confront your own doom. Ward and Brownlee, having acutely described life's beginnings in "Rare Earth", here portray the mechanisms of its end. With the course of life's evolution revealed in the work of many researchers, depicting the finale has rarely been attempted. Recent studies of the past have given the authors the tools for...
Published on 4 July 2004 by Stephen A. Haines

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really wanted to like this, but...
This type of book is always fascinating to read, as you know you'll learn stuff that you could never imagine. Knowing how it will all probably pan out long after we're all gone is something that may become increasingly important given that we're heading for another Ice Age. But I'm afraid this book was spoilt for me by the author's total belief in global warming. Let...
Published on 5 April 2011 by Baz


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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When things get bleak . . ., 4 July 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
It takes a certain amount of fortitude to confront your own doom. Ward and Brownlee, having acutely described life's beginnings in "Rare Earth", here portray the mechanisms of its end. With the course of life's evolution revealed in the work of many researchers, depicting the finale has rarely been attempted. Recent studies of the past have given the authors the tools for forecasting the future. They use the history of the planet to suggest the "tape of life" will be rerun - backwards. Changing conditions will reduce the options life has to continue surviving. As a swelling sun and dehydrating Earth limit choices, life will revert to simpler, hardier forms. At some point, although far in the future, life's opportunities will end. A bleak barren world will likely be consumed by Sol's energetic transformation into a red giant star. A lifeless planet will either skirt the circumference of that swollen star or be consumed in its fires.
Although a fiery conclusion is the ultimate finale, there are many intermediate steps along the path. Ice, which has covered our planet many times in the past, is shown here as one of the major signs of the impending finish. Seas withdraw from coastlines and habitat zones shrink dramatically. Weather patterns undergo massive changes from what we experience. The authors use "time transport" techniques to enable you to envision the impact of these drastic variations. You visit future scenarios where plant life's extinction has taken herbivores with it. Grasses exist for a bit, but it's too desolate for complex grazers to enjoy them. Harsh winds scream across those savannahs, dehydrating the soil until the grasses, too, finally expire. These conditions, Ward and Brownlee contend, have likely already begun. The peak of plant diversity may already be behind us. Animal extinctions, accelerated by our presence, must surely follow.
What of humanity, then? Raised with the ideal that we are evolution's "purpose", we believe we can overcome nature's greatest challenges. It's clear that even our esteemed technology must fall short of coping with an overheating Sun. The authors, who have dealt with extinctions in the past, deal ambiguously with the logic of human continuation to a distant future. While most species survive for a few million years, they suggest we will still be present when vast changes begin. They weigh the issues of our possible escape from the doomed planet in terms of will, available resources, advanced technologies and likely havens. All come up somehow short. A bleak prospect indeed.
The authors' expressive style captures your attention throughout. Not an academic study, yet still a serious assessment, this book will keep your attention throughout. With the new science of astrobiology as their foundation, little of their narrative is idle speculation. They write with authority, yet present their theme as a drama. Actors come and go, struggle to maintain their roles, but succumb in tragic circumstances. Referring to this book as compelling reading is almost damning with faint praise. While the scenarios are projected billions of years in the future, we can initiate many of the processes through carelessness.
Incorporating many ideas and research information in a mere 200 pages is a major accomplishment. Ward and Brownlee, with their wide knowledge and almost florid style have produced a fine work. As a summary of geology, astrophysics, evolutionary biology and atmospheric sciences, this is a unique and admirable synthesis. If there is anything to fault, it is the strong reliance on the resources used in their previous collaboration - a minor flaw in such a comprehensive study. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really wanted to like this, but..., 5 April 2011
This type of book is always fascinating to read, as you know you'll learn stuff that you could never imagine. Knowing how it will all probably pan out long after we're all gone is something that may become increasingly important given that we're heading for another Ice Age. But I'm afraid this book was spoilt for me by the author's total belief in global warming. Let me qaulify that. There are (what we now know as incorrect) references to the snows on Kilimanjaro, and the spotting of mosquitoes at higher latitudes (which has also been shown to be nothing to do with warming). And the 'warming' references get dragged in often, unfortunately, with some of the more extreme forecasts. These references should ahve been left out (no matter what your belief on warming) as they are but a very brief moment in Earth's history, and will pale into total insignificance against not just our doom, but that of all living things and the planet itself. Indeed, that's the point of the book! We (humans) are the latest thing and have had virtually nothing to do with the life of the Earth thus far. Our farming, our land-use change is VERY recent, and any believed effect really shouldn't warrant any mention in a book that is about the life and death of the planet itself.

In the second chapter is a rather bizarre author's error that allows the reverse description of H2O - and hasn't got picked up despite all the reprints... "Water, a simple molecule of one hydrogen and two oxygen atoms"! Overall the book is a good read, and it may shock many on what it reveals about the very near future. Also an interesting surprise was the idea that the Earth may have already peaked 300 million years ago. But the references to man-made climate change (in the first half of teh book) are just too numerous in a book that ultimately deals with the birth and death of Earth, not what some of inhabitants may or may not have done during a very, very short timeframe. That's a shame, and should have got picked up by an editor. For me, it took the shine of the interesting facts and predictions on Earth's slow demise, and it doesn't matter whether you're a warmist or a sceptic; fact is it should hardly be mentioned in the book. If you believe it then fine, write a book about it, but don't include it in a book about the lifetime of a planet that is likely to be 12 billion years long!

There are other tiny flaws in what should otherwise be a 'science' book, such as a mention in Chapter 11 about the possibility of uploading our souls to computers! I'm afraid I kid you not. Last time I checked, 'souls' had nothing to do with science and everything to do with beliefs in the supernatural. The authors have added a lot about where we will be at the time of Earth's slow demise, but give little mention to the idea that we stand a good chance of being 'set back' a few decades or hundreds of years by a sizeable asteroidal impact. If this continually happens (and hits have been a huge part of Earth's history) then we will depart a long time before Earth starts its warming end phase.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're All Doomed!, 4 Nov 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of Our World (Hardcover)
Ward & Brownlee tell us how planet Earth has changed over time, from its beginnings 4.5 billion years ago up to the present. More importantly, they tell us how it's going to change in the future. It seems the whole development of human civilisation has happened during a brief respite between ice ages. But one day, after the fossil fuels have all been used up, the ice will be back. Eventually the ice will be melted by a warming sun. But don't get your hopes up. That same sun's going to boil the oceans, causing a runaway greenhouse effect. Ultimately it's going to consume the planet.
I'm not a scientist, so if Ward & Brownlee are making factual errors, or if they're presenting contentious ideas as received wisdom I wouldn't know. I do know that they write very engagingly for non-technical readers like me. I would love the BBC to comission a TV series based on this book. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Realist/pessimistic?, 8 Jun 2012
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Being a great fan of the author's works, I really had a good time reading this book. Its full of interesting theories and facts such as the earth golden period being already part of the past (300million years ago). The theories even sound sometimes too realistic (or pessimistic)

Otherwise, the book is well structured and highy enjoyable. Maybe a bit more graphics?

THe only minus is that I found the authors going a bit too far in terms of speculation. For example, there are interesting theories to move the earth further away to stay in the sun's comfort zone but I guess by that time we would have either died or move away.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, 21 July 2010
An interesting book based on facts, clearly written and easy to understand. Written almost as a narrative, as if the authors are talking to you.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuine fun, 18 Jan 2006
By 
Mr. P. D. Gregson-allcott "thegerg" (Muppet heaven!) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Whether any of this will ever come to pass is, of course, impossible to know. However, the science that these two use to back up their claims is genuine enough and it gives a wonderfully BIG world view, showing the utter futility of humankind's endeavours over the long-term.
For those wanting to write books about the far future, it is also a treasure trove of future Earth scenario's.
I loved it!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Downhill all the way? Another belter from W & B!, 9 Oct 2008
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
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"The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us how our end shall be. Jesus said: Have you then discovered the beginning, that you seek after the end? For where the beginning is, there shall the end be."
(The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 18)

After Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, here comes another belter from Ward & Brownlee. The question of what has happened over the last 5 billion years of earth's history has of course been addressed in great detail by science. But what will happen over the next 5 billion?

In this masterly study, W & B contend that everything is going to go pretty much in reverse, a kind of film run backwards of the history of the planet - we may even already be past the turning point and it's downhill all the way from hereon.

A mind-blowing analysis.
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