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The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe Hardcover – December 11, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (December 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065066
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Until a few years ago scientists believed that habitable zones around stars were fairly narrow. Today, after the discovery of 250 planets around other stars, they have had to reconsider the basic requirements for life and even how to define life. Impey, a noted astronomer at the University of Arizona and observer with the Hubble telescope, takes readers on a journey from the emergence of life on a still bubbling Earth to possible scenarios for our descendants fleeing a dying sun. Impey pays more attention than many writers to the importance of star types and their location in the galactic neighborhood for producing and sustaining planets. He shows how resilient microbes may be able to survive light-year-long journeys huddled deep within meteors and comets, and that we now know that the moons in our solar system alone offer an amazing range of possibly favorable environments for life, from the ice oceans on Jupiter's moons to the methane geology of Titan. Impey makes good use of his extensive teaching background in this carefully laid-out book. Readers with little formal science background will enjoy this wild ride through the ages and deep space as much as will dedicated SETI buffs. B&w illus.
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'Lively, clear and up-to-date overview of astronomy, cosmology, biology and evolution, specifically as related to the search for extraterrestrial life ... [Impey] does an impressive job explaining an avalanche of information, including such recent major discoveries as the first planets found orbiting distant stars. A skilful account of the universe, the nature of life and where in the universe life might occur.' Kirkus Reviews

'There has been a recent flood of books about astrobiology - the study of life in the universe - but this latest effort by astronomer Chris Impey is one of the best. It provides a solid overview of the diverse research involved ... beautifully written.' The New Scientist

'Impey has written a wonderfully readable book about the chances of life existing elsewhere in the universe ... But The Living Cosmos is not about just that. It is an overview of everything you need to know about the fundamentals, including how we got here and where we're probably going. More important, the science - a word that often causes eyes to glaze over - is laid out with uncommon clarity and panache.' Sara Lippincott, Los Angeles Times

'Chris Impey, one of the world's most distinguished astronomers, takes an exhaustive and illuminating look at astrobiology ... Consistently engrossing and provocative, and frequently absolutely mind-blowing in its implications, The Living Cosmos is filled with scientific details but it remains accessible to readers without a background in astronomy and science. This book is most highly recommended.' Book Loons Reviews

'Impey has clearly done his research thoroughly, and interviewed a great number of the key scientists whilst writing the book ... The Living Cosmos is not only comprehensive in its treatment of the great breadth of astrobiology research, but is also beautifully written. Each chapter opens with an engaging account, full of imagery, of the upcoming topic. On the whole, this is a sterling attempt at making astrobiology accessible to a general audience and I enjoyed reading it immensely.' Lewis Dartnell, Astrobiology Society of Great Britain

'Chris Impey provides a broad, accessible context for his thoughtful, engaging and up-to-date take on the quest for extra terrestrial life.' Bruce Jakosky, Nature

'Chris Impey surveys the state of the art in this exciting multidisciplinary field. Impey frames his book around three questions: How many habitable worlds are there? Is biology unique to the Earth? And are there other intelligent civilizations? Complete with a companion website featuring podcasts, video clips, interviews, news stories and original artwork, The Living Cosmos provides an eloquent summary of humankind's quest for life elsewhere.' Scientific American Book Club

'This is a book about a science that is changing our view of the universe and about what life really means and where it might exist. Impey provides us with a road map to the future of astrobiology, a map that is meant to lead us into a deeper understanding of life and man's station in the universe.' National Space Society --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Chris Impey is a University Distinguished Professor and Deputy Head of the Department, in charge of all academic programs. His research interests are observational cosmology, gravitational lensing, and the evolution and structure of galaxies. He has 170 refereed publications and 65 conference proceedings, and his work has been supported by $20 million in grants from NASA and the NSF. As a professor, he has won eleven teaching awards, and he has been heavily involved in curriculum and instructional technology development. Impey is a past Vice President of the American Astronomical Society. He has also been an NSF Distinguished Teaching Scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, and the Carnegie Council on Teaching's Arizona Professor of the Year. He was a co-chair of the Education and Public Outreach Study Group for the Astronomy Decadal Survey of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2009 he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Impey has written over thirty popular articles on cosmology and astrobiology and co-authored two introductory textbooks. His first popular book "The Living Cosmos," was published in 2007 by Random House. His second and third, called "How It Ends" and "How it Began," both on the subject of cosmology" were published in 2010 and 2012 by Norton. His most recent popular book in 2013 covering iconic NASA missions is called "Dreams of Other Worlds" and a book will be released in 2014 on his work teaching cosmology to Buddhist monks in India called "Humble Before the Void." He recently published his first novel on Amazon Kindle, called "Shadow World."

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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The writing style is clear, authoritative, friendly and quite engaging.
G. Poirier
Life on earth is weird enough and it would be very interesting to find out how it had evolved on other planets!
David B Richman
The Living Cosmos by Chris Impey Is a very thorough book on astrobiology and astronomy in general.
Ernest E. Peterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on December 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a professional biologist (for what that is worth) I am reasonably certain that earth is not the only abode of life. Earth is, however, the only example we have at present. Unfortunately, a number of writers, both scientific and non-scientific, have waxed enthusiastic about not only life on other planets, but technologically advanced life (the stuff of science fiction), which is much more problematic. Still, although I am highly skeptical about advanced technological civilizations within hailing distance (Ward and Brownlee in their book "Rare Earth" added to that skepticism), the thought of alien biological systems has certainly intrigued me.

Now Chris Impey has written a bit more optimistic tome in "Living Cosmos" and, while he has not totally convinced me (I am now somewhere in between Ward and Brownlee and Impey on this issue), the book is certainly fascinating. Impey also has a good sense of humor and does not take himself as seriously as some writers on the subject.

Based on the two books (and a few others) that I have read on the subject I think that the main problem is that civilizations may not be as long-lived as we would like. Thus we have not only a spatial problem (the nearest star is over 4 light years away and it is not a good candidate for a planet with life on it, as is true of most of the stars within several hundred light years), but a temporal one as well. First the technological civilization has to arise and then it has to stay in existence long enough for us to pick up its electromagnetic output and at a point when we can do so. Messages beamed at us that arrived in 1066 (or even in 1946)would not be readable by us. Also if such civilizations were a dime a dozen (something Impey does not imply) we would have heard from them by now.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on February 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book encompasses an absolute wealth of wide-ranging information, all centering on life in the universe. Starting with an overview of ancient Greek thought on the nature of the cosmos, the author presents a brief historical overview of astronomy and cosmology. Next, the evolution of the universe, including our galaxy, our solar system and our planet, is discussed leading to how life began and evolved on Earth. Since it is important to comprehend the nature and evolution of life on this planet to better understand life elsewhere, more than half of the book is devoted to the above issues. Past, present and possible future attempts to discover evidence of life in our solar system, the search for earthlike planets in other solar systems, the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy and efforts to seek it out comprise just a subset of the vast number of exciting (astrobiology-related) topics covered in this fabulous book. The writing style is clear, authoritative, friendly and quite engaging. Although the material in this book is accessible to anyone, it may appeal the most to science buffs. One thing is certain: anyone reading this book is in for a treat!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It used to be that we were pretty smug about how special we humans were - we were at the center of the universe with everything else circling us, and we were also lords of creation, far removed from all the animal kingdom. We are still special, no doubt, but just how special is harder to assess. That doesn't keep astrobiologists from trying. Astrobiology is the study of life in space, and has been criticized for being all about stuff we don't even know exists. Life seems to crowd into just about every niche in our own world, but elsewhere, it's just too hard to say right now, but it is not too early to ask good questions and think about how to get answers. In _The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe_ (Random House), Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy, has laid out the history of our understanding of cosmology, and has summarized the intelligent speculation that scientists have brought on a peculiar realm of inquiry. His book is clearly written, covering even difficult cosmology in jocular, vivid analogies.

Guesswork about extraterrestrial life has continued for centuries, but we do now have evidence from different fields that the existence of extraterrestrial life may not simply be speculation. For one thing, we know that there are indeed planets orbiting other suns. Impey spends a chapter describing just how astronomers have spotted these planets. There is looking outside the solar system, and then there is looking at our own planet with a view to seeing what life on it is really like. We take for granted the plants that get energy from the sun, and the animals like ourselves that get energy from those plants, but only recently has it become clear that even on Earth, things don't always have to be that way.
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Format: Hardcover

"[Our planet`s] biology is like a pleasant valley that supports a rich biota. We can see how life developed in this valley from the simpler and hardier organisms that live on the high plateaus and rocky peaks. But how do we know it is the best or the only valley? There may be places beyond the horizon that [have an] even more [rich biota] or `lost worlds' with unfamiliar creatures. Similarly, our biology may be one of many possible `solutions' to the evolution of complexity [refers generally to sophistication of genes, metabolic pathways, brain architecture, or functions of an organism]. In different physical settings...other solutions may be preferred. Given the limitations of lab biochemistry [the chemistry of life], the answer will come only from astrobiology [the study of life in the universe]. Countless realizations of life may already exist in deep space."

The above quotation is called the "biological landscape" which expresses the idea that terrestrial biology is one example of a wide array of potential biologies and not necessarily an optimal solution. It is found in this fascinating, easy-to-read, and sometimes humorous book authored by Chris Impey, a distinguished professor at the University of Arizona and deputy head of one of the largest astronomy departments in the United States.

Note that this book is designed for a reader with little or no background in astronomy.

The book itself is divided into seven parts:

Part 1: HISTORY. That is, the history of how we've come to know our place in the universe.
Parts 2, 3, and 4: LIFE. What we know about the evolution of life on Earth and what we can learn from the diversity and robustness of terrestrial fauna.
Part 5: LIFE in our SOLAR SYSTEM.
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