- Hardcover: 280 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (December 17, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521491290
- ISBN-13: 978-0521491297
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.7 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #659,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology 1st Edition
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"...A useful resource for academic libraries. Recommended." - K.L. Schick, Union College, CHOICE, September 2013
Mark Brake tells the compelling story of how the portrayal of extraterrestrial life has developed and evolved over the last two and a half thousand years. This is a fascinating account for anyone interested in the extraterrestrial life debate, from general readers to amateur astronomers and undergraduate students studying astrobiology.
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Top customer reviews
All that aside, I found the book to be a useful overview of the history of human thinking on alien intelligence, from ancient times through the present day. I got the book because I had just taken an online course in atrobiology and thought the historical context would help round out my understanding, and certainly "Alien Life" does demonstrate a deft grasp of the philsophical sweep over time, relative to "other worlds," other beings, but I THOUGHT (and caveat emptor on me) I was going to get more engagement with some of the prime forces imagining alien life today--the various science fiction conceptions. I felt that without this engagement, the work was not as complete as it might have been.
In the past 100 years, artists, writers, and scientists have tackled the topic with a vengeance. Remember HG Wells? Solaris? 2001? Carl Sagan?
Blake discusses many contributors to the popular understanding of alien life. However, I was irked at some of his omissions. Examples: Did cultures who had never heard of the Greeks have a perspective on aliens? Did women approach the topic differently than men? And there are numerous other authors and movies that have shaped the current Western perspective toward alien life - Alien and Dune come to mind, and I really thought District 9 was powerful. What about the influence of Star Trek, or Star Wars? And what do we know about the relationship of belief in aliens versus fantasy worlds involving hobbits, unicorns, or the Game of Thrones?
The book had more promise than content, the fleshing out of lecture notes rather than a comprehensive review of the topic.
A casual reader might think that the depiction of aliens started with H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. Brake shows, however, that such ideas began much earlier. To tell his story, he must give an overview of the history of science. The way people viewed the universe affected how they think beyond the Earth. A belief that the Earth was not only the center of the solar system but also the center of the universe could limit ones imagination about aliens.
Even in ancient times, however, the early Common Era writer Lucian composed a story of life in what would eventually be considered outer space. Over the centuries, other authors would follow suit. Most of these early aliens would serve as little more than an allegorical purpose; even if they seemed bizarre in appearance, they basically existed to satirize some aspect of humans.
Eventually, however, with the Renaissance and the related progress in science, writers would consider aliens a bit more seriously. Even if belief in extraterrestrial life was rather sketchy (and rather dangerous), people began to consider a bit more what aliens might be like. It would take progress in biology (most notably in the ideas attendant with evolution) to really make strides in the speculative science of astrobiology. Eventually, starting with Wells, science fiction would provide a greater look at alien life, sometimes with depth and sometimes with silliness.
The actual science behind astrobiology is not really delved into too deeply in this book; Brake is more interested in describing the history of astrobiology. It makes for an interesting, if at times a bit sluggish, read. I would recommend this book more for those who enjoy history or science; if you're looking for wild ideas about aliens, this is not the book for you.