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Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction second edition Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1421400969
ISBN-10: 1421400960
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Editorial Reviews


Tantalises the imagination and leaves you wanting to know more.

(David Reneke Australasian Science Magazine)


Certainly the most readable introduction to astrobiology now available.

(Chemical and Engineering News)

Plaxco and Gross bring us as close to aliens as we can currently get. I recommend this book to anyone interested in science's newest kid on the block.

(Astronomy Now)

A good read for all those who are fascinated by the search for extraterrestrial life and the origin of life on our own planet. I shall certainly value it in my own library.

(Chemistry World)

An accessible guide to this young and interdisciplinary field.

(Physics World)

The fascinating world of extremophiles is well presented, and a broad overview of the searches for evidence of life beyond Earth rounds off the book. The text is liberally illustrated with relevant figures that greatly enhance the content, and entertaining snippets of information detailing the quirks of research in this field nicely supplement the scientific content.


A comprehensive yet concise introduction to the field.

(The Space Review)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; second edition edition (July 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421400960
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421400969
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #535,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin W. Parker on December 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
When I was growing up, the science of extraterrestrial life was called exobiology. This was a difficult area of research since there was no evidence of any subject matter, and the term fell into disrepute. The modern successor is called astrobiology, which may still not be the best name. Anyhow, the idea is to study the possibility of life out there in all its contexts, to look at both the nature of the universe and how life developed and survives here on Earth to see what might be possible.

This book demonstrates the new approach to a "t." After an introductory chapter that attempts to define life, the second chapter, entitled "Origins of a Habitable Universe," provides the best summary I've ever read of how the universe began and developed in its early stages, leading to how stars form and evolve. The story continues in the third chapter ("Origins of a Habitable Planet"), which covers how the solar system and eventually the Earth formed. The next four chapters start with chemistry and end with biology, going from discussing the basic chemical reactions that might have occurred on the early Earth and trying to work out how this led to life. And, once there was life, how it developed over time into ever more sophisticated and complex creatures, changing its environment along the way, as the invention of photosynthesis led to an atmosphere steeped with caustic oxygen, a nasty substance to early life but essential to the active metabolism of modern animals. The chemistry discussion is the single strongest portion of the book, not too surprising since one of the authors is a chemist.
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Format: Paperback
Biology is not complete without the astro-physical environment that produces the sun, the earth and the building blocks of life.
We can never fully understand life and evolution if we don't include the universe.
At bottom it is ecology extended to the cosmic environment.
A huge eye-opener for me was Barrow & Tippler (1994) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.
They showed that my biology training was hopelessly incomplete.
A second eye-opener was Tibor Gánti (2003) The Principles of Life.
For the first time in my life I had the feeling that I truly understood what the essence of life is and what the origin of life problem actually is, despite reading many books about the origin of life.
Now we have the science of astrobiology which combines both the universe as a cradle for life and insights into the nature of life.
I have been looking for some time for a suitable introduction into astrobiology until I found
Kevin Plaxco & Michael Gross (2006) Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction.
It is a very attractive book: a pleasure to read, enthusiastically and fluently written, full of relevant information, not loaded with boring details, the right price (indeed there are far more expensive introductions and textbooks).
Despite being an introduction, it is nourishing and thanks to being an introduction it is very digestible.
The book contains many stimulating thoughts and facts. Kevin Plaxco is a professor of chemistry. I think that chemistry
is the right science here: it is in the position to connect biology and astronomy (physics cannot bridge biology and astronomy because it differs too much from biology).
Michael Gross is a science writer. I suspect that a great part of the attractiveness of this book can be ascribed to him.
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Format: Hardcover
Imagine that your best friend were some brilliant world-famous scientist. Now imagine that the two of you were sharing a beer one night, and you carelessly asked the question: "I wonder if there is life elsewhere in the Universe?"

This book would be his answer.

"Astrobiology," by Kevin Plaxco and Michael Gross, is the perfect book for the armchair scientist. It should sit on your bookshelf beside Hawking's "Brief History of Time." It would also be an excellent book for the curious undergraduate.

Plaxco and Gross fill the book with easy, accessible prose, and lots of great science. Best of all, the sidebars, with which the book is liberally sprinkled. They make you feel like you are busy bending an elbow with a scientist that has a wicked sense of humor. After all, how many science books can you think of that use the word `flummoxed'?

If the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" had a chapter on astrobiology, this would be it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book contained content parallel to the U of Edinburgh Coursera Astrobiology course taught by Charles Cockell, who suggested it as supplementary reading. It provides a little more in depth look at the subjects than a basic level Cousera course was able to cover. An earlier free text is available to download from Rice U, but it is the earlier (2007) edition. So much changes so quickly. The later version seems appropriate if if it comes at a price.

This introductory text is exciting reading, a page turner for those with even a mild interest in astrobiology. There is nothing in the content out of range for anyone willing to think a little about the material. No science or math degrees required. Yet, the text may very well send the unsuspecting reader in search of the next level of learning.

The Kindle price was reasonable.
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