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Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology 1st Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521491297
ISBN-10: 0521491290
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...A useful resource for academic libraries. Recommended." - K.L. Schick, Union College, CHOICE, September 2013

Book Description

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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Product Details

  • 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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,203,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Saganite VINE VOICE on June 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was frankly a bit surprised to see that Cambridge published this work from Mark Brake, who has, to say the least, a rather controversial recent history. You can look up his (apparently documented) false PhD claim on Wikipedia under his name. I was actually more concerned about his treatment of Charles Darwin, who Blake seems to think lied about having the outline for natural selection before having read Alfred Russell Wallace's hypothesis.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology, by Mark Brake, certainly is an interesting book. Brake looks at the evolution of "pluralism" (the belief that there are many other worlds supporting life, and probably intelligent life) since probably the time of Nicholas Copernicus in the 1500s. Pluralism progressed in fits and spurts over the centuries, benefiting from contributions to the understanding of life and the cosmos from, among others, Darwin, Newton, and Einstein.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was so excited when I saw this book -- and imagined I would be finding out what the latest scientific and xenoanthropological thinking was on alien life. I imagined it as a wonderful resource for science fiction writers and screenwriters, or just as an interesting read for those of us curious about what might be out there. Instead, this book is a compendium of thoughts on space, the universe, life on this planet, evolution and yes, occasionally, even aliens starting from the early Greeks and slowly trudging onward. The author provides a fair deal of contents on each of the civilizations/era he discusses, so that the reader may better appreciate that era's views, such as they might be, on aliens. This might make for exhilarating reading -- or at least good insight -- for some, but to me, it felt like a meandering and incomplete hodgepodge of viewpoints and sources. This is perhaps not the author's fault, but just a poor disconnect between the title/subtitle and the book's actual content. C'est la vie.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Much to his credit, Mark Brake has written the most succinct account I have encountered yet on the philosophical and historical aspects pertaining to the search for extraterrestrial life in "Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology". He offers readers a rather lively account that stretches from the thinking of early Classical Greek philosophers like Epicurus who believed in the existence of many worlds similar to Earth's to the heretical thinking of Giordano Bruno and others in the late 16th through 18th centuries. What is especially noteworthy is Brake's discussion of Darwinian thought - as derived from the Darwin - Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection - in influencing H. G. Wells's science fiction, most notably in his "The War of the Worlds", which Brake observes is especially memorable for being the first science fiction novel to deal with a "menace from space", the prospect of Earth being invaded by a seemingly invincible alien foe as diabolically enigmatic as Wells's Martians in "The War of the Worlds". Brake devotes a substantial portion of a chapter (Chapter Six), "Einstein's sky: life in the new universe", to Alfred Russel Wallace's "rare earth" hypothesis, noting how Wallace, for primarily philosophical and religious reasons, dismissed the existence of intelligence life elsewhere in the cosmos, when referring to mankind's "privileged position" in nature. (To my surprise, Brake has ignored recent efforts - by invertebrate paleobiologist Peter Ward and others - to revive this very hypothesis.) Devoted fans of fantasy and science fiction may be disappointed that Brake devotes ample time to the likes of Olaf Stapledon and Stanislaw Lem, but he does discuss in considerable detail, Arthur C.Read more ›
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