An excellent preview of what may be the next big scientific breakthrough.




An up-to-the-minute look at the frontiers of the search for life outside Earth.

Washington Post science and space reporter Kaufman provides useful updates on the newly respectable field of astrobiology. Scientists in a variety of fields are finding evidence that humanity may well have company in the universe. The author begins by looking at extremophiles—living creatures in environments we thing would be hostile to life. Bacteria have been found in South African gold mines, in boiling water near volcanic outlets, high in the stratosphere in the Antarctic and even in arsenic-laden Lake Mono in California. Conditions on Mars may well have been quite favorable to the beginnings of life in the past. Meteorites of Martian origin appear to contain biological material, and an experiment conducted by the Viking Mars lander in 1975 detected what could be interpreted as biological activity. Neither result has been widely accepted, but there is plenty of further research to be performed. A key to finding extraterrestrial life is finding environments where it could thrive. In our own solar system, Mars and the Jovian moons still appear to hold promise, but the big question is whether other stars harbor Earth-like planets that could support life. Data from the Kepler space telescope appears to give an affirmative answer; still, some scientists argue that life beyond Earth will prove to be rare, and intelligent life even rarer. The search continues, nonetheless, using radio telescopes orders of magnitude better than when the Green Bank and Arecibo dishes were state of the art. Kaufman also explores the idea that the constants of physics—such as the weights of elementary particles—show a “fine tuning” without which the universe we know would be impossible. While the concept seems popular with cosmologists, its value for the search for life beyond Earth isn’t obvious. Still, by talking to many of the scientists whose results he describes, Kaufman provides an invaluable summary of the current state of research into extraterrestrial life.

An excellent preview of what may be the next big scientific breakthrough.

Pub Date: April 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0900-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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