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.
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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