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Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Hardcover – March 17, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; 1 edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426203926
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426203923
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, chronicles the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life in a venture that covers history, politics and funding, interviews with believers and non-believers (in both the religious and scientific sense), equipment and science, as well as typical sci-fi scenarios, all salted liberally with humor: "In most stories, space is just the Wild West without the dust... where the bad guys are just like us, except for their obvious need of remedial plastic surgery." Shostak also discusses the beginnings of life on earth, how this knowledge impacts what astronomers search for in other galaxies, and the growing consortium of scientific voices who believe "it would be offensively self-centered to imagine that what has happened on Earth has only happened on Earth." Written in clear, logical prose, with many analogies to everyday life that simplify the discussion (reverse-engineering technology "from a society several centuries in advance of us is like giving your laptop to Ben Franklin"). From crop circles to abductions, he discusses and debunks common alien encounter myths ("wheat fields are poor memory storage devices"), while remaining hopeful that continued exploration will yield discoveries. Covering topics from signal processing to feature films, should entertain a broad audience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

If there is one question that has preoccupied humanity since the beginning of consciousness, it has to be this one: Are we truly alone in the universe? Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI Institute, thinks the odds are against it. As the public face of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Shostak is optimistic about the possibility of life on other planets. His latest book is chock-full of statistics and speculation that add up to a fairly convincing argument. He proposes, for example, that by taking into account the glut of newly discovered planets in orbit around faraway stars and making a few scientific extrapolations, we can conclude that the universe is teeming with planets possessing the conditions necessary for life. The problem then becomes one of communication. Shostak believes the answer lies in listening for radio signals, and he presents a lively history of radio astronomy. He touches on other topics—microwaves, quasars, pulsars, and UFO sightings—and imbues them all with his trademark humor. Readable and engaging, despite the presence of some weighty, scientific material. --Jerry Eberle

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Customer Reviews

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He makes some very compelling arguments as to why ETI exist.
John Schmelzle
Seth Shostak isn't ready to be terrified, he's ready to be astounded, and if things go his way, he will be among the first to give a positive answer to the question.
R. Hardy
An easy to read, informative, interesting and thought provoking book.
Cory Vernon Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Arthur C. Clarke didn't know if there was life on other planets, but he felt it was a scary prospect either way; he said, "Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." Seth Shostak isn't ready to be terrified, he's ready to be astounded, and if things go his way, he will be among the first to give a positive answer to the question. He is the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, SETI being the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. As such, he has to explain why nothing has been found yet, and he also has to arrange for increasingly sophisticated tools to be targeted on the question. In addition, he gets to advise Hollywood about science fiction movies. In _Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence_ (National Geographic), Shostak has provided a stimulating introduction to his work, his motivations, and just what those aliens might be doing to ring us up to say hello. There is plenty of technical detail in his book, but Shostak is a funny writer who has good jokes (often pertinent analogies) on almost every page.

Since he is the public face of SETI, he often interacts with the public about his work. He has been accosted by Christians who insist that scripture mentions no aliens, but many others oppose his organization's efforts on non-religious grounds, grounds that he fairly discusses. After all, there has been some sort of search for signals from the aliens for fifty years, and SETI celebrates a 25 year anniversary this year. Why aren't there signals? If SETI hasn't succeeded yet, Shostak wants us to know that it is premature to call it a failure: "We have carefully examined only 0.0000005 percent of a single galaxy.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By W. Simmons on March 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Confessions of an Alien Hunter
By Seth Shostak

Chapter One of Seth Shostak's new book about SETI begins by recounting a signal, of clearly artificial origin, picked up at the Green Bank Radio Telescope on June 24, 1997. This incident introduces Jill Tarter and some description of the history, culture, and technology of SETI today.
The book is a wide-ranging description of the whole SETI field, updated by the roughly 300 extra-solar planets now known, the new Allen Telescope, and by new technology ideas that have appeared in recent years. The book was written by a man who has an enviable position at the center of SETI. Readers who enjoyed Bill Bryson's popular books will enjoy Confessions.
In 1971, NASA's Project Cyclops set the scientific and technological stage for subsequent developments. For all the good reasons analyzed in that report, radio became the primary communication mode investigated for ET signals, with optical SETI as secondary. Since then, as Shostak recounts, many new ideas, which go beyond the technology analyzed by Cyclops, have emerged. One example is a proposal by physicist John Learned to modulate Cephied variable stars as very long range signaling devices.
I always enjoy hearing Seth Shostak on the radio; this book is an opportunity to spend some time exploring SETI with him. [Full disclosure: some of our physics research at the University of Hawaii is mentioned.] Reviewer prejudice aside, I enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 29, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is not everyone's cup of tea, but if your idea of a Sunday afternoon is sitting around with a scientist shooting the breeze, talking about the possibility of alien intelligence existing out there somewhere, then you'll love this book. It's everything you wanted to ask after watching the movie Contact (written by Carl Sagan, starring Jode Foster), but never knew who to ask.

Hollywood gets it all spectacularly wrong, which makes for great movies but also means our collective public awareness of this area of science is lousy.

And there's some great insights. At one point Seth points out that if our galaxy were a haystack and we were searching for a needle (representing intelligent aliens), then SETI estimate that there could be thousands of needles but, so far, all we've been able to do is to examine a tablespoon's worth of hay. It's no wonder we've come up empty handed, but if we keep proding around, we will get pricked by a needle sooner or later.

For a science buff, this book is a must.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nivi C on June 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A witty and very-well written and book by SETI Institute senior astronomer Seth Shostak, that covers a broad range of topics related to SETI.

The author methodically takes us through the very interesting history of SETI to the present projects underway and the ongoing improvements in technology that continue to have an enormous impact on the success of the
search. Other SETI venues of searching - such as optical SETI - are also discussed.

The contentious issue of UFOs and alien visitation is addressed in one
chapter, with the author providing a sample of the colourful
correspondence he receives from those opposed to his and the SETI
Institute's skeptical stance on alien visitation.

Shostak also talks of his and his colleagues' escapades as science advisors for sci-fi films, where he was often responsible for tweeking scripts to make them reflect actual scientific banter: "Despite Hollywood's frequent habit, few academics address one another as 'Dr. Fudnick' or 'Professor Fooberg.'"

Finally, Shostak discusses the aftermath of discovering an extraterrestrial signal - what we humans could discover, whether religious beliefs and our view of ourselves will be affected and what to include in a potential reply to the extraterrestrials.

Thanks to Shostak's wit and knack for making technical details
interesting to the lay audience, there isn't a dull page to be found -
an extremely enjoyable and enlightening read.
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