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The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets Hardcover – February 3, 2009

3.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Debra Fischer, Professor of Astronomy, San Francisco State University
“Alan Boss is widely respected for his scientific research and for his ability to clearly convey forefront research to the public. The Crowded Universe is a delightful read that chronicles the twists and turns of the birth and evolution of the rapidly evolving field of exoplanet discovery.”

Michel Mayor, Professor of Astronomy, University of Geneva
“The discovery of exoplanets has transformed modern astronomy. In The Crowded Universe, renowned expert Alan Boss offers an exciting insider’s account of the quest for other Worlds.”

Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain
“The search for life beyond the Earth, and the study of planets orbiting other stars, are surely among the most fascinating topics in 21st century science. Alan Boss offers a clear and masterly guide to these exciting and fast-moving subjects.”

Dr. Paul Butler, Carnegie Institution of Washington
“In the past decade we have gone from complete ignorance of extrasolar planets to the verge of finding habitable planets. In The Crowded Universe, Alan Boss gives an extraordinary inside look at the people and events that have shaped the field. The excitement of discovery shines in Boss's elegant prose, and the work of centuries is seamlessly assembled for the non-expert reader."

Professor Geoff Marcy, Center for Integrative Planetary Science, UC Berkeley
"Rarely is the history of science so accurately told as in this lively and authoritative book. Alan Boss offers insights about our terrestrial origins, our extraterrestrial brethren, and our destiny in the Galaxy, placing our Earth in the cosmic context for the first time."

Dr. Frank Drake, Director, Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute CIRC
The Crowded Universe is a thorough depiction of the events and people involved in one of the greatest milestones in the history of science: the detection of other planetary systems in the Milky Way. The author is one of the primary players in this ongoing saga, and he tells the story with commendable detail. If you want to see how science works at its best, read this book.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History and author of The Pluto Files
“The search for planets outside our solar system has become a cottage industry. In The Crowded Universe, Alan Boss weaves a ‘you are there’ narrative that reaches behind the scenes of this thrilling new field, exposing the reader to the people, the politics, and the sheer joy of doing science.”

"Solid coverage of one of the most exciting topics in science."

Scientific American
“Astronomer Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington predicts that CoRoT and Kepler will discover abundant Earths. These telescopes are poised to prove him right or wrong, and his book provides essential and fascinating background as the drama unfolds.”

“The space race is on. No, not back to the moon. The next great achievement for humanity will be to find alien life on another planet. Astronomer Boss gives an inside view of how new space telescopes like Kepler and Corot are on the verge of finding Earth-like worlds around other stars.”

New Scientist
"Boss recounts the exhilarating tale of the race to discover the first truly Earth-like exoplanet. As The Crowded Universe unfolds, it brings alive the thrills and disappointments of bleeding-edge science, the fierce competition between American and European planet-hunting teams and the politics of billion-dollar research. Along the way we learn the latest theories on how planets form and just how astronomers detect distant worlds too faint to see."

BBC Focus Magazine
"If Alan Boss's excellent new book is anything to go by, the next few years could see some dramatic revelations about our cosmic neighbourhood... In 'The Crowded Universe' he skilfully recounts how astronomers have gradually become better acquainted with the exoplanets - planets orbiting stars other than the Sun... This is top-notch-and-timely popular science meets page-turning political intrigue."

Natural History
“In this short and lucid review of his field, [Boss] traces the developments of the last fifteen years in chronological, diarylike entries, so that we can share with him the excitement of discovery…. The tone of Boss’s book, accordingly, is excited and hopeful, but there’s also a note of wry irony in his descriptions of the political trials astronomers have gone through trying to promote their research. And despite the successes of the past decade, Boss senses that it may be increasingly difficult for astronomers to attract the sums needed to continue the search for habitable planets. Readers of this book, I am certain, will hope his fears are unsubstantiated.”

Space Times
“[The Crowded Universe] is a stunning story, recasting scientists as detectives developing and using new tools to expand knowledge of our exciting universe.”

“[T]he book reads like an adventure yarn, reminiscent of archaeologists looking for fabled lost cities…. [A] thoroughly fascinating account.”

About the Author

One of the world’s leading authorities on the formation of stars and planets, Alan Boss is a research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Meteoritical Society, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009367
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,932,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Boss is a research staff member at the Carnegie Institution's
Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in northwest Washington, D.C.
Boss received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California,
Santa Barbara, in 1979. He spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at
NASA's Ames Reseach Center in California before joining the staff of
DTM in 1981. Boss's theoretical research focuses on using three dimensional
hydrodynamics codes to model the formation of stars and planetary systems.
Boss has proposed an alternative means for forming the gas and ice giant
planets of our Solar System and in extrasolar planetary systems, a scenario
that is much faster than the conventional mechanism. He is a member of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a Fellow of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, the Meteoritical
Society, and the American Geophysical Union. Boss was the founding chair
of the International Astronomical Union's Working Group on Extrasolar
Planets. He has been helping NASA plan its search for extrasolar planets
since 1988 and continues to be active in helping to guide NASA's
efforts. Boss leads a ground-based astrometric planet search effort
at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. He has published two
books about the search for planets outside the Solar System, "Looking
for Earths: The Race to Find New Solar Systems" in 1998, and "The
Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets" in 2009. He is currently
the chair of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Technology Assessment Committee
(TAC), the chair of the WFIRST/AFTA Coronagraph TAC, and the chair of the

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ask any group of people, regardless of the group: "do you believe that there is life beyond Earth?" The answer is always a resounding, "yes." Ask them what evidence they have for believing this and the response is less enthusiastic. Notwithstanding the wackos who claim visitations of aliens, there is not one scintilla of evidence thus far produced to suggest that life on this planet has company anywhere else in the universe. That fact may change soon, and "The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets" chronicles the process whereby this may happen. It is a stunning story, recasting scientists as detectives developing and using new tools to expand knowledge of our exciting universe.

Scientist Alan Boss, on the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, has found a second career as an interpreter of the scientific enterprise for the general public. His earlier book, "Looking for Earths: The Race to Find New Solar Systems" (Wiley, 1998), successfully opened the search for the first discoveries of planets around other stars to a much broader audience than ever reads the scholarly literature. "The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets" continues that theme, carrying the story to the present. In the process, Boss chronicles how the first detection of extrasolar planets rocked the scientific world in 1995 and has given impetus to the search. Using new instruments, technologies, and techniques a loose confederation of scientists around the world are engaged in detecting and cataloguing the number of extrasolar planets around other stars. More than 330 have thus far been discovered, but all of them are giants similar to Jupiter and Saturn rather than terrestrial, Earth-like plants.
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Format: Hardcover
THE CROWDED UNIVERSE: THE SEARCH FOR LIVING PLANETS comes from a renowned astronomer who argues that we're on the verse of finding many Earth-like planets around other stars - planets where life is not just possible, but common. His ideas about planetary formation and life possibilities makes for an outstanding study key to any high school to college-level astronomy collection as well as any general-interest lending library strong in science.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book a lot, but it isn't for everyone. It's less about the exoplanets and more about our struggle to find them - hence the sub-title "The Race to Find Life Beyond Earth". It's an engaging book, meticulously written in sequential journal-entry format, about the planet-finding process - with all of its flaws. It left me a bit adrift in the end, mainly because it was published right around the time Kepler, the most ambitious planet-finding space observatory ever built, was launched. As a work covering the history of planet-finding before Kepler, it is perfect. I'd like to see Boss publish a similar work in the future, perhaps nearer the end of Kepler's extended mission, as his ability to synthesize and communicate the findings of the world-spanning planet-hunter tribe is both impressive and invaluable in this very technical field.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be a bit disappointing, as it read more like a report to NASA employees than a popular science book.

Although there are tidbits about the science of planet-hunting, there is too much about the politics and budgeting issues at NASA. Also, the reading level is inconsistent. On one extreme the basics of doppler shift and the light year are explained at a junior high school level, but on the other extreme there are a lot of astronomical terms left vaguely defined.

I wish Dr. Boss and his team good luck with the Kepler mission, as it is sure to yield some fascinating results. I just won't read the final report though.
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Format: Hardcover
For most people, the very idea of searching for planets orbiting other stars can be quite exciting. Even more so if this search includes, as one of its primary objectives, looking for other inhabitable Earths. This is the subject of this book and the author has done a superb job of conveying this excitement to the interested reader. The book includes some of the history of this field as well as an up-to-the-minute update on what has been found thus far and what projects are being planned for the future. Since several of these projects involve sending instruments into space, the politics and finances associated with space-related projects is extensively discussed. Some of the science is briefly described and the principles of operation of some of the devices, e.g., interferometers, have been largely left out. Consequently, a reader interested in a more in-depth look at the related science and technology would need to look elsewhere. The book contains many useful diagrams, although none of them are directly referred to in the main text. Also, the captions for many of the plots that were reproduced from scientific publications run a bit short on explaining the quantities represented by the axes. Nevertheless, the author succeeds admirably in communicating the rollercoaster ride of emotional swings involved - from the elation of discovering a new planet to the agony of learning that funding previously awarded for an important project has been either reduced or cancelled. The writing style is clear, friendly, very authoritative and quite engaging. Although general readers can learn a lot from this book, especially on how science works, it is likely that science buffs would appreciate it the most.
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