SETI bioastro: SETI League review of Life Everywhere

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From: Larry Klaes (larry.klaes@incent.com)
Date: Wed Jun 06 2001 - 15:07:04 PDT


http://www.setileague.org/articles/everywhr.htm

Book Review: Life Everywhere
reviewed by Albert A. Harrison, Ph.D.

University of California, Davis aaharrison@ucdavis.edu
Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology
by David Darling
New York, Basic Books, 2001
[ISBN 0465015638, 206 pages, $26.00]
The parade of new books on astrobiology and SETI continues. Which of these
new offerings add substantially to the pre-existing literature base? The
first way a new book can contribute is by broadening and deepening the
knowledge of people who are already versed in the search for life on other
worlds. The second way a book can contribute is as a useful introduction for
people who have little or no background in astrobiology. Although it may
seem that these two goals are mutually exclusive, David Darling’s remarkable
new book, Life Everywhere, should appeal to both seasoned veterans and the
general public. The key to this achievement is a very generous helping of
fresh, up-to-date material coupled with superb organization, a
conversational writing style, and the lavish use of anecdotes and examples
that make potentially difficult material understandable and engaging.
Veterans will discover that Life Everywhere takes us way beyond the usual
tales of finding Jupiter-sized planets and mashing up Martian meteorites. In
a clear, concise, and orderly fashion this book strengthens almost every
term in the Drake Equation. For example, Darling describes how, rather than
narrowing the search for the origin of life, astrobiologists keep finding
new ways that life may have begun. He tells us how to identify promising
stars, and warns that the usual discussions of habitable zones may be
unnecessarily limited. Life Everywhere unveils emerging technologies that
will allow astronomers to identify Earth-like planets in other solar
systems, and then monitor chemical processes that we would expect if simple
forms of life evolved there. SETI League members are sure to enjoy his
provocative analysis of the “Rare Earth” hypothesis, and his chance
discovery of how pre-Copernican thinking may influence contemporary
astronomy.
Life Everywhere is a great book for initiating friends and relatives into
the mysteries of astrobiology. Do you have an aunt who gets a headache
trying to think about planets or moons in orbit? Darling will ask her to
visualize a dinner plate with a helping of mashed potatoes in the center and
a used stick of chewing gum whizzing around the rim! Do you have an
adolescent son who can’t get into science? He may be thrilled by Darling’s
discussion of the formidable survival skills of life forms such as Conan the
Bacterium. Although upbeat and [at least when it comes to other worlds]
definitely pro life, Darling is a careful scientist who explores both sides
of important issues and carefully separates hypothesis from fact. His
discussion of panspermia is a good example of his even-handed treatment of
controversial topics. No book accomplishes everything, and while Life
Everywhere is definitely multidisciplinary we still await discussions of how
the social sciences and humanities might contribute to astrobiology.
Shortly after Life Everywhere was published there appeared a spate of
negative reviews on the Internet. To me, these reviews said more about the
anonymous authors’ politics than about the qualities of Dr. Darling’s new
book. Some of these commentators seemed to favor creation science over
evolution, and some preferred new-age thinking to scientific procedures.
After 400 years, the Copernican Revolution continues, and the ability of
Life Everywhere to outrage pre-Copernican thinkers is much to Dr. Darling’s
credit.


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