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Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique Hardcover – 8 Dec 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (8 Dec. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118147979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118147979
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2.5 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 698,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"This book′s title exaggerates the author′s argument about the rarity of life in the "universe": Gribbin (astronomy, Univ. of Sussex, UK; In Search of the Multiverse) claims only that intelligent life in the Milky Way galaxy (not the entire universe) is almost certainly limited to Earth. Since there are billions of galaxies in the visible universe (and possibly an infinite number beyond the reach of our instruments), his carefully limited claim is sensible. He presents a formidable array of evidence from astronomy, astrophysics, geology, and evolutionary biology to support his basic assertion. Gribbin′s definition of intelligent life on Earth includes only Homo sapiens, so he is weighing the likelihood that species on other planets within the local galaxy have intelligence equaling or exceeding that of humans. His case is well presented, but the odds may shift in the next few decades as more data are gathered on the Earthlike planets outside our solar system. VERDICT Gribbin is a veteran author of popular science books; this new volume should be of great interest for all readers curious about the possibility of life beyond our own planet. Strongly recommended."—Jack W. Weigel, formerly with Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor ( Library Journal , November 15, 2011) "The Milky Way contains a few hundred billion stars, but almost certainly contains only one intelligent civilization," says astrophysicist and veteran popular science writer Gribbin (The Theory of Everything). In an infinite universe, on the other hand, anything is possible, but we can only explore such questions closer to home. Gribbin makes a thoroughly lucid and convincing case. Recent astronomical observations have shown that exoplanets—worlds orbiting other stars—are more common than we expected, but Earth–like worlds are rare. And even planets in a "habitable zone" of both a galaxy and an individual star need water and the right organic compounds to engender and sustain carbon–based life. "Life got a grip on Earth with almost indecent haste," but it took Earth′s metallic core and a near–twin Moon to stabilize Earth′s tilt and steer off dangerous radiation; equally advantageous to Earth, Jupiter’s mass pulls in most of the comets and asteroids that might otherwise smash into us. Gribbin lays out the details one by one, building a concise case that "[w]e are alone, and we had better get used to the idea." (Dec.) ( Publishers Weekly , October 24, 2011)

′Alone in the Universe’ is thought provoking and sobering’.   (New Scientist, 17th December 2011)

From the Inside Flap

Are we alone in the universe? For some of us, it is an article of faith; for others, it′s simple arithmetic: with hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, billions of which are circled by planets capable of supporting life, there simply must be intelligent beings elsewhere in the Milky Way. Throw in the countless other galaxies, and it goes almost without saying that the universe abounds with intelligent species capable of building civilizations, right? Not so fast. In Alone in the Universe, acclaimed science writer and astrophysicist John Gribbin builds a convincing case for the uniqueness of intelligent life on Earth. Asserting that a "habitable" planet need not be inhabited by intelligent beings, he cites a wealth of recent scientific findings to suggest that the incredible diversity of life on Earth resulted from a chain of events so unlikely as to be unrepeatable in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. The most significant of these events was the impact of a Mars–size object with Earth soon after our planet formed. It was this unimaginable impact, Gribbin argues, that changed almost everything about our planet. It gave us a moon, and thus tides; altered the tilt of Earth in its orbit around the sun; and set the scene for continents to drift. A novel feature of Gribbin′s argument is the suggestion that another catastrophic event occurred in our solar system six hundred million years ago. An enormous super–comet collided with Venus, scattering ice balls and dust grains across the inner solar system. A side effect of this activity triggered a freezing of Earth into a "snowball" state. The most profound transformation then occurred among the microscopic, single–celled organisms that had populated Earth virtually unchanged for three billion years. Suddenly, as Earth thawed, complex multicelled organisms appeared, including the first complex sea animals, and life began moving onto land. This sudden profusion of life, known as the Cambrian Explosion, marked the effective beginning of rapid evolution on Earth—but it took a disaster of cosmic proportions to set it off. Had it not happened, Gribbin argues, there would be no intelligent life here. What are the chances that such an improbable chain of events could occur twice in the same galaxy? Zero, says Gribbin. Is there an upside to Alone in the Universe? For one thing, Gribbin says, Earth and human beings are special, after all. We are no longer insignificant specks in the cosmos but the unique products of an extraordinary set of circumstances that have as yet occurred nowhere else in our galaxy, and possibly not in any galaxy. As such, we are the only witnesses with an understanding of the origin and nature of the universe, and our home is the only "intelligent" planet. Gribbin ends his discourse with an impassioned plea for action against climate change and to restore the ailing ecological systems of a planet like no other.

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Format: Hardcover
This is a very informative and thought-provoking book. I learned a lot, particularly about the evolution of stars and the perils that can befall planets. Obviously the odds are stacked against any one planet succesfully cradling life and allowing it to develop as much as it has on Earth. However it is difficult to accept every proposal the author makes when there are one or two errors of logic. I refer for instance to the statement that appears to say that crystallisation of quartz from a magma enriches the magma in silica! Then there is the author's proposal that in the pre-Cambrian Venus was struck by a large body the effects of which included the initiation of Ice-Ball Earth. This was the first I had ever heard about this proposal, when other explanations for it have appeared to be reasonable. Moreover although the author has very adequately exlained many processes there are some that are difficult to understand that he does not seek to clarify.
However, these objections aside, it is obvious that the possibility that we are the only advanced species in the galaxy is well worth considering. I thought the style of writing was very clear and informative and would like to hear what astronomers think of the proposals. At the price the book is good avalue for money, a very good read, and I will go back to read it again to refine my understanding. I recommend this to any scientificaly curious member of the public.

Elvin Thurston
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a thought provoking book. Usually I only read a book once, but I think I will read it again and take notes. It is crammed full of fascinating information about the galaxy, the sun, the solar system, the earth and the course of evolution. It's not too technical though. There are no mathematical equations and weird diagrams. I am not completely convinced by all the author's arguments, but in general I suspect he's right. All in all, it's a pretty gloomy prognosis.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After a life-time of amateur interest in our universe and our place within it, I feel that I have wide, but cetainly shallow, knowledge of the subject. This book is very readable, though pauses for reflection and mental recovery are recommended. It gives much detail of present theories and evidence for the universe and ourselves being as we are at this stage of our (joint) evolution, and is well worth reading. Its case that we intelligent beings are alone in the vastness is pretty convincing but "Drake" has a good reputation, has he not ? Gribbins makes a good show of having many of the answers but it would be very deflating to further enquiry were there not some scope left for uncertainties. Recommended as an interesting and cogent viewpoint over areas of physics, etc, not covered commonly outside academe, it is thought.
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Format: Hardcover
Certainly not a plot you would easily imagine if you sat at the big bang penning a story about how things might unfold. That this thing 'life' would emerge on 1 planet, at latest count, is depicted chronologically as very very unlikely given endless low probability events occuring and certain physics and chemical rules, as best they are known, limiting 'life' and its possible forms. The twists and turns that unfold in the solar system from the carbon compound soups of cosmic clouds to single cell life emerging is compelling if depressing in its stated certainties. An effortless read from a reader at the currrent end of this long unlikely process that beats a lot of fiction in its drama and relevance.
Is the only solace for this fatalism and its basis in vast amounts of data the scientific notion used in the book to justify conclusions, namely that 2 events alone constitute a'pattern' in science talk and for sure more than 2 scientific theories have gotten life, the earth and everything wrong before, so a pattern there too...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting explanation of Fermi Paradox versus Drake Equation. However I feel the arguments could do with fleshing out and perhaps some numerical values attached to parameters in Drake Equation. Not good value at original price and where is paperback promised in April. The triggering of snowball earth and hence Cambrian Explosion by a giant comet colliding with Venus I have never seen before and I subscribe to Science and Scientific American. It smacks of Worlds in collision.
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