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MAKING CONTACT

JILL TARTER AND THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE

Scoles has done her homework, so readers will both understand and sympathize with Tarter, who has become an icon and role...

The inspiring story of an important American astronomer who co-founded the SETI Institute, which was created “to study all aspects of the existence, formation, and evolution of life in the universe.

Reputable astronomers and other scientists have searched for extraterrestrial transmissions since the 1960s. Educated readers might name Carl Sagan as the lead figure, but that role belongs to Jill Tarter (b. 1944), an impressive pioneer who receives an admiring, insightful biography by Scoles, a former editor of Astronomy magazine who worked at the observatory where the first SETI project was implemented. “If there’s just us, that seems an awful waste of space,” is a line from the 1997 film Contact, delivered by Jodie Foster, a character partly based on Tarter, and both the real and fictional astronomer remain an inspiration to women entering science. The sole woman among 300 in her undergraduate class, Tarter did significant work in astronomy before becoming fascinated with stellar radio emissions that might indicate intelligent life. Although not the first, her persistence, imagination, and charisma have made her an iconic figure in the search for extraterrestrial life. Plucking an alien transmission from the avalanche of human and natural radio emissions is technically demanding, requiring sophisticated engineering. NASA provided modest support until Congress killed it. The Air Force pays to use its detectors, but fundraising preoccupies SETI leaders, Tarter included. When she began, scientists knew only one solar system and considered life a delicate phenomenon. Now we know that our galaxy contains 100 billion planets, and plenty of earthly organisms (“extremophiles”) live in ice, boiling water, miles under the earth or sea, and amid toxic chemicals and radiation. Astrobiology has become a highly respected profession.

Scoles has done her homework, so readers will both understand and sympathize with Tarter, who has become an icon and role model despite pursuing a goal she knows she will never achieve.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-441-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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