About two-thirds through Asimov's bio-odyssey comes his thirteenth calculated figure: "The number of planets in our Galaxy on which a technological civilization is now in being equals 530,000." What has gone before has been an inexorable march of always scrutable logic leading him to conclude that life-advanced technological life—must be based on the carbon atom and the existence of "volatiles" (hydrogen, helium, neon, argon, water, methane, hydrogen sulfide); in short, on Earth-like conditions. To be sure, there may be some dolphin-like intelligences swimming in the oceans of some of the massive outer planets, but being streamlined, without appendages, they are unlikely to have the props of civilization. Elsewhere there may be bacteria or other lowly forms. The recent revelations of hydrocarbons and even more complex carbon molecules in interstellar dust seem only to confirm the universal chemistry of life. Given the probabilities, what next? How do we explore, send or receive signals—or should we? Here Asimov's rich knowledge of science fiction and fact lets him survey all the reasoned and wild-eyed speculations and dreams. And here his style takes on even more of a litany form of statement-and-response: a one-sentence paragraph supposing passage through a black hole, for example, is followed immediately by a rebuttal: "Yet. . . ." In the end Asimov feels that beginning with nearby space settlements may be the way, and by a stepping-stone approach over generations—reaching the limits of the solar system. If these settlements started coasting, picking up speed as they fly by the outer planets, they could leave the solar system forever, perhaps to find other "free-worlds." Short of seeding space, Asimov favors our feeble attempts to send messages—as in the Carl Sagas-Frank Drake records incorporated in the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes. At home, the possibility of building a large network of radio telescopes tuned to the most likely Sun-like stars might be sufficiently demanding technically and sufficiently informative to be worth the cost, not to mention providing a diversion from the arms race. And suppose a signal was picked up. Might it not provide "the crucial feather's weight that may swing the balance toward survival and away from destruction"? Asimovian optimism that's hard to resist.

Pub Date: June 1, 1979

ISBN: 0449900207

Page Count: -

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1976

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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