This is a well written and highly readable account of the evolution of life on our planet which attempts to place this story within its cosmic context. John Gribbin succeeds in conveying his argument in an informed and eloquent manner. As ever he makes science highly readable and for me that is a big plus. I am by no means an expert on the subject but I have always been intrigued by the story of life on Earth. I don't know if the author's `unique' spin has strong academic merit, although the quality of his argumentation would suggest it has. I am aware that it has been argued previously that the existence of our moon has been critical in creating the conditions for life on Earth. However, the author builds on this to develop a new and, it would appear, more radical thesis: that the moon's role is such that a technologically advanced civilisation is unique to our planet. This is a brave assertion given the potential number of habitable planets not only in our galaxy but the whole universe. Of course only time will tell if his argument is a valid one. I was reminded of the premise that underpinned Isaac Asimov's novels: the only life in the galaxy exists on Earth and it is humanity's destiny to populate the stars (this is a recollection from the 1970s so I hope I'm correct here!). An engrossing read. Highly recommended.
With an estimated trillion stars in our Galaxy alone it seems reasonable to suppose that countless Earth-like planets must exist with intelligent life emerging on many of them. However, John Gribbin puts forward numerous astronomical and geophysical reasons why our intelligent, technological civilization is unique within the Milky Way Galaxy. 'The Reason Why' is an accessible and thought-provoking book explaining Earth's special place in our Galaxy. John Gribbin argues convincingly that the chance of any other technological civilization existing is very remote and we have to get used to the idea of being alone.
Gribbon's books are always well written, well researched and up-to-the-minute. 'The Reason Why...' is no exception. An absorbing tale of the narrow sets of parameters needed for life to exist and the role of chance in keeping it going. It does not answer the question of exactly how life began, but it covers pretty well how life could not begin, and tries to answer the question of whether other intelligences are likely to exist. I have some reservations, however, with this kind of speculation. Firstly, the odds of life arising in this planet are 1, certainty, since we are here. To understand how unlikely that event actually is, doesn't really prove anything about our or anyone else's presence in the galaxy. Because we do not have enough (or indeed any) observations of similar conditions that do not produce life, there is no way our probabilities are anything more than speculative. We already know that planets seem to exist in configurations that were thought impossible just a few years ago. While Gribbon discusses past extinctions and their evolutionary role he does not go into the last and most pertinent term of the Drake Equation, the window of opportunity for a civilisation. This is the one that will tell us why there are no other civilisations visible in the galaxy. It is the future probability of extinction not our past luck that will determine how far life gets in the universe.
This is an absorbing read through a wide range of evidence about the possibilities of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Each arguement, concerning the chances of life evolving, is supported by informed evidence which,however,can sometimes be lengthy.The use of a diagram would often help with both length and clarity; an example is the use of a frontal and an edge view of our Galaxy.There are some ambiguities, which suggest more editing was needed. An example here is the doubtful expression:- "quartz crystallises out of the molten magma leaving it richer in silica"(quartz is silica).A reader will finish feeling that he,or she, has had a refreshing experience of the dependence of human existance on a narrow band of conditions in each of the Galaxy, Sun, Solar System and the Earth.This precious Earth has provided a home for evolution over a vast period of time.
John Gribbin's books are always worth reading - sound science and good writing. "The Reason Why" is yet another, and anyone who wants to find out more about the cosmos and "our place in it" will not be disappointed.
This book is a breath of fresh air and an antidote to a postulation often cited - even by eminent cosmologists - that goes along the lines of: "...given the numbers of galaxies in the universe, and the number of stars in each, it seems reasonable to presume that there must be intelligent life on other planets..." There is no rigour to such a statement, however convenient it may be to writers of sci-fi.
Gribbin's book is a brave and worthwhile attempt to show how phenomenally special our world is, and how precious a place we find ourselves the temporary guardians of. The ideas are up to date and woven into an elegant argument that appeals to general interest in a way that more technical offerings (such as Conway Morris - Life's Solution) never manage. It is relevant to all of mankind. Everyone should have to read it!
The only slight disappointment is the final couple of pages where, in explaining the possibilities of future cataclysmic cosmic events, a weary sense of pessimism about the inevitable future of our civilisation seems to creep in... Perhaps had John Gribbin read some Raymond Kurzweil before writing this he would have looked forward with barely contained enthusiasm at the potential future of a post-biological reliant civilisation, perpetuating sentience in vessels of exotic materials, carrying the codes for it's biology to seed an ever expanding web of self-awareness across the stars...
I think this is one of the most important popular science books written to date. It's so well written. Such a complex story with so many different elements brought together, clearly structured, intensely interesting. I think it needs to be in every school curriculum because it teaches us our cosmic ancestry in an awe-inspiring way enabling us to feel genuine empathy with the planet and giving real food for thought about how lucky we are to be hanging around. With this kind of stuff on the reading list I think we'd set up future generations pretty nicely. There are many spine-tingling passages relating to the precarious set of circumstances that eventually lead to our existence including the position of our solar system in the Milky Way; the formation of the moon and what that means for life on Earth; and the role of plate tectonics...
Never got bored reading this book, the cosmos fascinates me, as does our place in it. We are so lucky to be here and the more you read into why, the more it hits home, I would place this book just behind "Rare Earth"