LUCKY PLANET by David Waltham


Why Earth is Exceptional—and What That Means for Life in the Universe
Email this review


Despite the popularity of contemporary theories that suggest our world—and even our universe—may not be singular or exceptional, astrobiologist and geophysicist Waltham (Earth Sciences/Royal Holloway Coll., Univ. of London; Mathematics: A Simple Tool for Geologists, 1994) argues that this skepticism of exclusivity is the result of “the most severe case of observational bias in the history of science.”

In other words, the extraordinary sequence of events that took place in order for life to evolve on Earth could not have occurred in any other sequence and still produce life forms capable of reflecting on said events. The Earth’s biosphere is so beautifully and uniquely suited to foster sentient beings, it may be the only planet in the visible universe capable of hosting such complex life forms. The root idea that Earth is nothing special, the author argues, needs to be deconstructed and challenged before being taken at face value. Drawing on properties of geology, astronomy, climatology and biology, he examines how exactly Earth has managed to remain climatically stable enough to sustain life. The fact that 4 billion years have passed without a catastrophic, life-ending change in atmospheric temperature is, he argues, more than just a byproduct of the planet’s atmosphere; it’s a statistical wonder that is unlikely to be repeated, even within the vastness of the visible universe. To support his theory that incredible luck plays a defining role in our existence, Waltham surveys historical factors in the makeup of stars and planets, as well as looking deeper into the Earth’s astonishing good fortune as a habitat for multicellular life—and whether it can be sustained.

A bold, unwavering argument that pushes back against the too-quick acceptance of Earth as exceptional—and encourages its intelligent life forms to appreciate our supreme luck.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-465-03999-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2014


NonfictionTHE STORY OF EARTH by Robert M. Hazen
by Robert M. Hazen
NonfictionNIGHT COMES TO THE CRETACEOUS by James Lawrence Powell
by James Lawrence Powell
NonfictionTHE ACCIDENTAL UNIVERSE by Alan Lightman
by Alan Lightman
NonfictionTHE UNIVERSE WITHIN by Neil Shubin
by Neil Shubin