Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe
By Peter D. Ward, Donald Brownlee
Why this book?
Everyone wants complex life to be common in the universe, because that’s way more interesting than an unimaginably vast collection of rocky and gassy spheres devoid of anything but chemicals or—maybe, every now and then—bacterial analogues. Scientists are human, too, so it’s probable that most scientific theories about extraterrestrial life are skewed toward optimism. Peter D. Ward, a paleontologist, and Donald Brownlee, an astronomer, team up in Rare Earth to issue a corrective to wishful thinking. In cogent, persuasive prose they build their case for why the planet Earth, as an incubator of complex life, might be very, very, very unusual. This is one of my favorite science books of all time, because it challenges the general reader to be more scientifically objective than many scientists, to be clear-eyed rather than starry-eyed.
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