"If Jerry Seinfeld can do a sitcom about nothing, why can't I write a book about something we know nothing about?" is how Grinspoon prefaces his book.
The book is divided into three major sections (and many chapters): "History," "Science," and "Belief." The first chapter deals with the historical beliefs in life on other worlds from ancient times through modern times. The second deals with what is a requirement to get life going on other world. The third section follows the belief in extraterrestrials, including modern ufology.
"Lonely Planets" is a journey through virtually every major topic related to extraterrestrial life & intelligence. Grinspoon brings up many fascinating thinkers (and thoughts) that have helped shape our modern attitudes toward the possibility of extraterrestrial life, such as Fontenelle, Herschel, the much-maligned Lowell (and his canals), through to such 20th Century greats as Fred Hoyle and, of course, the late, great Carl Sagan.
"We're ignorant of life in the universe. We only have one planet that serves as an example and in science it's not good to derive information from a sample size of one." Grinspoon represents a breed of scientist not afraid to speculate aloud and in public about matters that cannot be proven, to joke about them, to relate to them personally and passionately, and to say that it shouldn't be career-threatening for a scientist to venture into the realm of the unknown.
It is extremely well-written, thought-provoking, and honest, which are three things that cannot be said of many books that deal with the subject of extraterrestrial life. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject of how we humans might fit in the puzzle that is the universe. And it's very funny too.
I picked up "Lonely Planets" on a whim, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Grinspoon is a planetologist first, and the best part of this book lies in the author's descriptions of Venus (which he has studied intensively in his own career), Mars, Europa and other moons and planets in our solar system. Mars and Venus are probably but not certainly lifeless, but Europa--well, there's an interesting world, which may have a liquid ocean and life beneath a miles thick layer of ice. Scientists think enough of the possibility that they crashed the aging Galileo space probe into Jupiter's atmosphere rather than run the risk that it might someoday collide with (and possibly contaminate) Europa. The balance of "Lonely Planets" reviews the history of philosophical and scientific thinking about the prospect of life on other worlds, the conditions that might give rise to life, the prospect of intelligent life evolving on other worlds (or even on this one), and the means by which "advanced" civilizations might communicate with each other. The questions raised are thought provoking. Is life on Earth a unique phenomenon, or is it possible (likely?) that life also developed on other worlds? Is all life (or at least the life in this part of the galaxy) related by virtue of accidental or intentional "panspermia"? If life exists elsewhere, is it likely to be carbon-based, or will some other element do the trick? Does life always evolve toward intelligence as we understand it, or does it usually remain simple and gooey? If there are advanced civilizations on other worlds, why don't they call or write? Are we not cute enough (or smart enough)? Maybe other forms of intelligent life just aren't talkative--or if they are, perhaps we just can't figure out how to communicate with them, or them with us (when was the last time you had a chat with a whale or dolphin?) Are alien visitors already here, or are people just imagining things? Grinspoon does a good job of illuminating these and other fascinating questions. His style is conversational and friendly, which is not a bad trick for a rocket scientist. On the whole, a good, approachable introduction to what may be the most important scientific question of our time. If we conclude that there is life on other worlds, that's amazing; and if we learn that there isn't any life on other worlds, well, that's amazing, too.
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The book itself is excellent, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in this sort of stuff. The book itself is worth 5 stars, but I dropped it one because my Kindle version footnote system didn't have a return on one of its entries, so having gone to the footnote - I was unable to return to the text, and effectively had to start the book over again. I haven't dared to read any of the footnotes again; which undoubtably means I am missing out on some important content
I have just finished this book and I would agree completely with William Holmes's review. The author writes in a very understandable way, not getting too technical. I liked the way he was able to offer his opinion on matters regarding "alien" life, yet was happy to put both sides of the argument as to whether we are alone, without being judgmental. He put it neatly that while the majority are reasonably confident that we cannot be the only life in the universe, if anyone suggests that they have seen anything "alien" then they are dismissed as crazy. The back end of the book, which looked at the Drake Equation vs. the Fermi Paradox, was the most entertaining bit for me. The first half of the book dealt with how life may have got started on Earth, and a look at the other bodies in our solar system. Good background to the latter, more interesting part of the book.
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One of my favourite popular science genre books - I've re-read the hardback a few times, and downloaded it for my Kindle.
Covers many areas around the science of searching for alien life - it's a fascinating well-written and witty book, and unlike most books I've picked up on this subject, manages to find a lot of new and interesting things to say.
A great read but in my opinion written by the "Company man" a debunker who tends to stick to the orthodox and ridicules and mocks the pseudo scientist. He laughs at the audience of a meeting where hundreds video clips were shown of UFO's and alien 'evidence', and his description of the 'believers' was not necessary. He dismisses the inexplicable cattle mutilations and the thousands of crop circles without any reasonable explanation and carries on as if they never happened. The book is excellent in most respects but the parts on aliens is a subject worthy of more tolerance and there is no room for giggling behind the hand.
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