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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are into the possibilities of life on distant world - Kaufman's work is the finest book on this topic - FIVE STARS !!!
First Contact is a sophisticated and thoughtful examination of the possibility and in the author's opinion probability of finding intelligent life forms on planets other than our own. It is clear that the author is not shooting from the hip and has done an exhaustive survey of where we are in the search. A perusal of his other sources will reveal hundreds of books that...
Published on April 3, 2011 by Richad of Connecticut

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a long newspaper article
To quote the beginning of the Sources section, "I went into reporting of First Contact with more than three decades of journalism and writing experience but limited knowledge of the many scientific disciplines that make up astrobiology." And it shows. He spends a lot of time setting scenes, describing the habits and quirks of the scientists he interviews and the...
Published on July 4, 2011 by JBinDC


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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are into the possibilities of life on distant world - Kaufman's work is the finest book on this topic - FIVE STARS !!!, April 3, 2011
First Contact is a sophisticated and thoughtful examination of the possibility and in the author's opinion probability of finding intelligent life forms on planets other than our own. It is clear that the author is not shooting from the hip and has done an exhaustive survey of where we are in the search. A perusal of his other sources will reveal hundreds of books that thoroughly cover the topic.

If you were a child of the 50's and the 60's, this subject used to be covered under flying saucers and UFO's. In the 80's and 90's we moved towards concepts like the x-Files and Roswell, New Mexico. We have now entered the realm of serious science with serious funding trying to bring home the bacon in terms of being the first to prove the existence of alien life-forms. A generation ago, a serious scholar would be marginalized for working in this field. Today it is acceptable. Astrobiologists, a relatively new term are bending over backwards processing the reams of information coming in from space probes and new experiments in a rush to conclude if in fact we are alone.

Author Marc Kaufman has given us nine page turning chapters chock full of information that you simply will not find anywhere else. Even the chapter titles give you a good idea of what this book is about. They are:

* Biggest Discovery of them all

* Really Extreme Life

* What make something Alive

* The Spark of Life

* On the Trail of Life on Mars

* Three Eureka's on Hold

* Planet-Hunting

* Life and the Laws of Physics

* Far-Flung Intelligent World

* The Day After 1st Contact

Kaufman also points out and footnotes it that the Catholic Church has already held extensive internal symposiums to deal with the question of church policy if intelligent life is found on other planets. Whole pages of the book are dedicated to the concept of how the church will deal with the day after first contact. The author also discusses the implications for other religions in view of their historical beliefs and doctrines. Some religions apparently believe in multiple worlds with multiple life forms different from our own.

We also know that in 1958, the United States government composed a group of very fine scientists to deal with the effects if NASA which was in its early stages found conclusive evidence of life outside our planet. The decision was made at that time that if they did find life, the evidence would be stone walled, and the astronauts were ordered to sign secrecy documents if such an issue arose. Apparently this was another reason to select only astronauts that were military personnel because of the ability to control information flow.

The search for intelligent life outside the earth has led to new fields of science. One is exoplanets which is the study of planets outside our solar system, and the second field is exobiology which is the study of biological systems outside our planet as well. As you are probably aware, only in the last ten years have scientists for the first time proved the existence of planets outside out planetary system. This is done through the observation of very ultra slight distortions in the gravitational paths of other stars.

As a result of these studies, some 500 additional planets have been found and charted. Scientists are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the existence of planets may be as common as the existence of stars. If such is the case, than is it possible that the universe is teeming with life on many of those planets? If so what form would it take, and how evolved? Are we thinking about microbes here or a species capable of solving the issues of intergalactic space travel, which we have yet to solve?

As the book both carefully and meticulously points out, part of the problem up until now, is that we haven't known what to look for. Some scientists who we now refer to as extremophiles have taken to looking at the places on earth with the most extreme temperatures as in volcanoes. Another extreme area is the bottom of the oceans where the plates meet creating very hot pools of matter being forced out of the earth's crust. These very same scientists have now found new life forms in these extreme locations and previously it was not dreamed possible.

Other scientists thinking about other planets are fast coming to the conclusion that with life on earth being found in such previously thought impossible locations, we must now open ourselves up to the potential that this can be true on other planets in the galaxy that also have extreme temperature variations. It's all here in 191 pages of narrative followed by the exhaustive sections on both resources and foot notes.

Conclusion

If you read First Contact with an open mind, you will enjoy, better yet relish a journey about man's need to find out that he is not alone in the universe. You will also have a much better understanding of our planet due to Kaufman's travels to the extreme habitats of our own blue earth, which at times can be a very uninhabitable place. It is the author's opinion that sometime in the remainder of this century, we will find life forms on worlds not our own, and we must be intellectually and culturally prepared to deal with this issue. The book does an excellent job in laying the groundwork for just such a happening. I thank you for reading this review, and I know that you will enjoy this book.

Richard C. Stoyeck
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Contact-A Fascinating Book on Extraterrestrial Life, April 26, 2011
By 
As a child of the 20th Century, I remember our voyages into space as the adventure of a lifetime. Now Marc Kaufman has done an excellent job pointing us way beyond the orbital flights and trips to the moon with his thorough analysis and exciting description of the science behind the near-certainty that we are not alone in the Universe. The very first sentence affirms that "...before the end of this century, and perhaps much sooner than that, scientists will determine that life exists elsewhere in the Universe." This will, as Kaufman says be The Biggest Discovery of Them All.

But the book is much more than an enthusiast's proclamation of what will soon be learned. It is a deep analysis of the reasons scientists are increasingly sure that life beyond Earth will be found, from the presence of life under extreme conditions throughout the Earth to the ubiquity of chemical precursors in and beyond our Galaxy to the ever-increasing number of planets now being discovered around other suns.

The latest developments in SETI and Astrobiology are explained in layman's terms without sacrificing accuracy, and a believable scenario for a possible first contact is described. An extensive bibliography and index will help you find your way around in the subject and guide your further study.

My recommendation: buy this book and share it with your friends.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a long newspaper article, July 4, 2011
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To quote the beginning of the Sources section, "I went into reporting of First Contact with more than three decades of journalism and writing experience but limited knowledge of the many scientific disciplines that make up astrobiology." And it shows. He spends a lot of time setting scenes, describing the habits and quirks of the scientists he interviews and the offices/labs they work in. I think he does a competent job of summarizing the interviews he had with scientists, but he seems almost more interested in them than in the subject matter. I don't get the sense he's really trying to understand the material himself, he's just "reporting" it.

It reminds me of newspaper articles about complex subjects that begin with an anecdote, like an article on the national unemployment rate that begins with a paragraph on some random guy in the heartland looking for work. If you like those personal anecdotes you'll probably like the style of this book. If you think those anecdotes are spongy filler and are impatient to get to the substance of an article then his newspaper style of writing might wear on you.

It's not a bad book, if you didn't know anything about astrobiology it would be a decent introduction to the subject, but I've read much better science books by other authors who also weren't scientists. I'd suggest waiting for the paperback.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "[That's] one small microbe for Mars, one giant leap for life in the cosmos", July 26, 2011
By 
XXXXX

"Before the end of this century, and perhaps much sooner than that, scientists will determine that life exists elsewhere in the universe. This book is about how they're going to get there. And when they do, that discovery will rival the immensity of those that launched our previous scientific revolutions and, in the process, defined our humanity."

The above comes from this fascinating book by Marc Kaufman. He is a science writer and national editor for "The Washington Post."

This book is a fascinating read because it puts before the reader's eyes all the science regarding the hunt for life beyond Earth that you may of read from other scattered sources into one slim book. Not only is the necessary science presented in an accessible manner, but new ways of scientific thinking and scientific breakthroughs are mentioned.

This book has a strong grounding in astrobiology (the branch of biology that investigates the existence of living organisms on planets other than Earth). As Kaufman tells us:

"The field of astrobiology in its modern form came into existence in the late 1990s, following the announcement by NASA that its researchers had found likely signatures of life in an ancient Martian meteorite that landed in Antarctica...the study of meteorites from Mars and elsewhere has blossomed...increasingly sophisticated instruments have allowed researchers to tease widely accepted secrets from the [meteorites]. All these very concrete discoveries--and the fact that interstellar space is full of potentially life-supporting, carbon-based compounds that constantly rain down on [Earth] and other celestial bodies--have convinced scientists around the world that it's highly unlikely that Earth is the only place in the universe where life arose."

Here's a sampling of some of the interesting topics discussed in this book:

Arsenic biosphere, search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), biosignatures, black smokers, chirality, cosmic natural selection, Cosmic Water Hole, Drake Equation, Miller-Urey experiment, Dyson sphere, exoplanets (planets not of our solar system), extremophiles, fine-tuning, habitable zone, shadow biosphere, Mars Viking missions, METI, desert varnish, terra-forming, and zoo hypothesis.

In the middle of the book, there are 18 beautiful colour photographs. My favourite, by far, is the one that has this first sentence in its caption:

"This first direct image of a star with three orbiting exoplanets was released in 2008."

Finally, I found a few minor errors in this book. (These errors, in no way, affect this book's readability):

(1) We're told that "the ratio of the strength of the electrical forces in the atom compared to the force of gravity is 10 to the 26TH." We are then shown what this number would look like when written in long form. The number that's shown has a one followed by thirty-six zeros. It should be a one followed by twenty-six zeros.
(2) We're told that SETI pioneer Frank Drake was "author of the 1963 `Drake Equation.'" Actually this equation was formulated in 1961.
(3) We're told that the Drake Equation "sought to very roughly estimate the number of advanced civilizations in the universe." NO. It estimates the number of advanced civilizations in our Galaxy.

In conclusion, this is truly a fascinating book about the hunt for life beyond Earth. I leave you with these words uttered by a theology professor that's mentioned in this book's final chapter:

"The problem...is that the discovery of extraterrestrial life will push humans further still from the cosmic limelight. Copernicus and Galileo told us that the Earth was not the center of the universe, Darwin told us that we are the result of random mutation and survival of the fittest, and now we're on the threshold of learning that life may well exist elsewhere."

(first published 2011; 10 chapters; main narrative 190 pages; acknowledgements; note on sources; bibliography; index)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

XXXXX
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge Strides in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, June 10, 2011
By 
Whether mankind is alone in the universe or whether life exists elsewhere in the cosmos is one of the biggest issues that people have pondered since time immemorial. In "First Contact," author Marc Kaufman asserts that we are less than a century from settling the question once and for all.

Kaufman states that discoveries since the mid-1990s are rapidly changing the scientific community's views on this matter. Hundreds of planets outside our solar system have been discovered, with more being discovered on a regular basis--and Kaufman thinks that many could be at the right distance from their suns to support life.

The author thinks that planets outside of our solar system might contain life because of the discovery of what he calls "extremophiles" here on earth--microbes have been found miles underground as well as in ice, in near-boiling water, and in acidic environments in locations such as Antarctica, Yellowstone National Park, and Mono Lake in California. The Mono Lake findings are especially significant--the organisms there appear to be using arsenic as a substitute for phosphorus in their cells, something previously believed impossible but illustrative of how life might be resourceful enough to adapt to the radically different conditions that would exist on other worlds.

In addition to life found in inhospitable locales on earth, Kaufman even reports that microbes live in clouds, and that in 2009 microbes were found alive "between 12 and 25 miles up into the stratosphere, where usually fatal ultraviolet radiation is strong." All of this evidence leads the author to believe that "the implications for extraterrestrial life are pretty clear: Life, if given an environment even the slightest bit friendly, will find a way to adapt and survive."

Scientists are also examining how life might develop on any planet in the first place, and the author finds that "the basic validity of 'abiogenesis' does remain in place--the assertion that the building blocks of life, and so life itself, can be formed from entirely nonbiological sources." Just last year Craig Venter, the scientist who mapped the human genome, created a cell with a synthetic genome--for the first time in eons, there is a living organism on earth with no ancestors.

Kaufman also discusses our efforts to determine whether life ever existed on Mars, and it is a shame that more missions have not been sent there (or to the larger moons of Jupiter and Saturn) yet--since the 1960s, one of the consequences of having had an enormous welfare state is that there has been less money for space exploration.

Millennia from now, when little else will be remembered about our time, the twentieth century will be remembered as the century in which mankind left earth for the first time and began to explore other worlds. If Marc Kaufman turns out to be correct, the twenty-first century will be remembered as the one in which we proved that we are not alone in the universe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The rich science of astrobiology, well-explained, May 12, 2011
By 
Michael Chorost (Washington, D.C.) - See all my reviews
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Astrobiology is such a new and fast-growing field that every book one reads about it can illuminate one's understanding in a new way. In "The Eerie Silence," Paul Davies writes brilliantly about just how strange extraterrestrial biology could be. In "What is Life?" Ed Regis makes the case that the key element of life is metabolism and discusses efforts to create it synthetically.

And in "First Contact," Marc Kaufman offers a rich and satisfying discussion of the ambiguity of the Viking lander's results when it ran a suite of tests to look for life in Martian soil. And he makes a fascinating case for the argument that it actually did find life.

Kaufman writes about Gil Levin, the scientist who designed an experiment that scooped up Martian soil, squirted nutrients into it that had been labeled with radioactive carbon-14, and waited to see if gases were emitted that carried that radioactive label.

If labeled gases were emitted, it would suggest that some microbe had eaten the nutrient and emitted a waste product. And in fact, that was exactly what was detected: a surge of radioactive carbon dioxide. As a control, the soil was then baked to high temperatures in an effort to kill off anything that might be living, and then the nutrients were added again. This time, no carbon dioxide appeared. It looked very much like a confirmation. Something in the soil had been alive, now it wasn't.

However, other tests carried on Viking, such as one for organic molecules, were negative. Faced with these conflicting results, a consensus formed that Levin's results had to be from some chemical rather than biological process. But ever since, Levin has been arguing that these other tests were flawed. He's shown that the organic-molecules test couldn't detect the low concentrations that are now known to be capable of supporting life. I'd thought the Viking results were closed, but Kaufman shows that they are very much open. There is a real possibility that Viking found what it was sent to find.

Kaufman also writes about extremophiles, the apparent fossils of bacteria on the Murchison and ALH84001 meterorites, shadow biospheres, and exoplanets. "First Contact" is a fascinating book that goes more deeply into the nitty-gritty science of astrobiology than any other book I've read. This is a fast-emerging field and "First Contact" is an essential introduction to what's going on in labs today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life will be found...., June 7, 2011
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Kaufman opens 'First Contact' with what at first feels like an oversell: He states, plainly, that life will be found beyond Earth. He sounded a bit too certain. But by the end of the book, I believed him. That's because Kaufman takes us along his round-the-world trip in search of the strangest - and hardiest - life on Earth. And deep below the Earth, in boiling springs, tucked into poisonous lakes, he finds it. Or rather, a range of edgy scientists - the astrobiologists - do. Kaufman gained great access to the work of these modern-day Darwins, who have learned that life will, in fact, find a way - even if that means munching on radioactive rocks. 'First Contact' made me a believer, and it pushes the big question forward. No longer should ask, 'Will we ever find life out there?' We should ask, simply, 'When?'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Recommendation: First, contact... "First Contact", June 9, 2013
This review is from: First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth (Hardcover)
While randomly searching for interesting literature, I found a singular copy of this book completely by chance, behind and under various books at an Ollie's discount store (perhaps a physical metaphor for the astrobiologist's search for life in our vast universe contained in the text?) I now consider this "accident" as one of the the best serendipitous discoveries of my 55 years!

Enlightening, educational, inspiring, exciting, and exponentially interesting, this book introduced me to current "cutting edge" scientific research currently underway involving our existence, the universe, extra-terrestrial life etc. and explained it in understandable terms. It is an easy and quick 200 page read, and you do not have to be a "space" geek or advanced scientist to enjoy and/or appreciate this text.

I am a Christian, "saved in 1979", so I do confess Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. Having stated this, I do believe in life on other planets. In fact, I find it intellectually insulting, considering the vastness of space, that anyone can conclude that we are alone in God's universe. In no way, do I find my positions incompatible. Quite the opposite, as an infinite Creator embraces variety.

I highly recommend this well written and well organized book. I thank Mr. Kaufman for writing it and I thank "my lucky stars" (pun intended) for finding it. It is a keeper and will be found in my personal library for the rest of my days.

Dr. Stanley E. Toompas, Optometrist,
& Author of "I'm the One the Other Isn't"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Gold At The End of the Rainbow, September 15, 2012
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This review is from: First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth (Hardcover)
This book is tough for me to review. It has always seemed to me that the search for life on other planets is akin to looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This book gives a very good description of tha search for life here on Earth in extreme enviorments-in ice, hot spring, deep inside Earth, etc.-along with the problems of finding life on other planets. I enjoyed the descriptions oh life on Earth that is newly discovered and the adventures that occour in looking for this life, but as far as finding life on another planet-I feel they have a long, long journy ahead.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Overview of the Search for Exoplanets and Exterrestrial life., January 6, 2012
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This review is from: First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth (Hardcover)
This book is a self-contained survey course on the latest efforts to find ET, or at least someplace out in deep space where ET could live. ET includes anything from microbes to advanced beings. There are sections in the book about earth-based extremophiles, the pros and cons over the definition of life, the debate over panspermia vs earth-based origins of life, Viking's mission to Mars and whether it was a success or failure, the latest findings in the search for exoplanets that highlights the relatively recent discovery of Gliese 581G, the laws of physics as they apply to our universe, including the role of fine structure numbers in the origin of life, and the consequences had those numbers been infinitesimally different, and finally, what happens the day after contact? On this topic the author spends a lot of time discussing the impact of first contact with ET on our various religious communities. Some religions would embrace the discovery without issue while others would be negatively affected. Regarding this, the author offers three options for discussion purposes:

"Option 1: We are alone in the universe and Earth is the only planet, moon, asteroid, comet or undiscovered other body anywhere with life.

Option 2: Only earth has complex life.

Option 3: Life exists beyond Earth and, in some instances, has become complex and most likely includes what we would consider intelligence."

Personally, I was hoping for more discussion of what our response would be should such a discovery be made tomorrow. Would we go crazy as they said we'd do back in the 1950's, or would it all be just another day of scientific discovery. One clue could be found in Bill Clinton's announcement of the Allen Hills Meteorite (ALH 84001). The scientific community went into an uproar, but the general public seemed to be okay with life elseware. Maybe earthlings have finally matured.

First Contact, Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth by Marc Kaufman, is written with the laymen in mind, so nothing's too difficult. All it takes to understand this stuff is an open mind, and a burning interest in finding out the straight dope on the possibility of ET, other worlds, and other solar systems. I enjoyed the book and give it five stars.
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First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth
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