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First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 5, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this century, predicts Kaufman, scientists will find evidence of life somewhere in the universe. It's an arresting idea, and Kaufman delivers an entertaining look at the science supporting it. Astrobiologists, who study the possible forms that extraterrestrial life may take, are "part Carl Sagan, part Indiana Jones, part Watson and Crick, part CSI," Kaufman notes. Their interdisciplinary work requires interlocking knowledge of physics, astrophysics, biology, chemistry, and planetary geology. Microbes we've found living in extreme habitats once believed to be inhospitable to life—glaciers, geysers, deep mines and caves, and volcanoes— prove that we must expand our ideas about what makes something "alive." So the only reason we haven't found life on other planets or moons before, Kaufman says, is that we haven't known what to look for. Carbon-based life is possible elsewhere, either seeded by meteorites made of organic carbon or created by vibrant lightning-fed chemistry, but extraterrestrial life is more likely to be very different from us. Taking readers from the South Pole to the northernmost tip of Norway, from the world's deepest mines to Mars, Kaufman explores the science that may change the human perspective more than anything that came before. 8 pages of color photos. (Apr.)
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“An up-to-the-minute look at the frontiers of the search for life outside Earth… Kaufman provides an invaluable summary of the current state of research into extraterrestrial life. An excellent preview of what may be the next big scientific breakthrough.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Marc Kaufman traveled to the ends of the Earth to report this fascinating, awe-inspiring, and accessible book. Are we alone in the universe? Almost certainly not. Kaufman leaves the reader with a lucid sense of what we know and where the next wave of discovery will take place.”

—Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Ghost Wars

“In First Contact, journalist Marc Kaufman reveals how the extremes of life on Earth illuminate our search for life in the universe. Along the way, Kaufman invokes crisp, clear, and engaging narrative that, at times, leaves you to think you were conducting the research yourself.”

—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History and author of The Pluto Files

“The search for life beyond Earth has now become the big scientific quest of our age. Kaufman skillfully weaves personal narrative and technical exposition to guide the reader through the challenges, both scientific and philosophical, that confront astrobiological researchers. An immensely readable book, infused with the thrill of the chase.”

—Paul Davies, author of The Eerie Silence and The Goldilocks Enigma

“Writing with cinematic clarity, Marc Kaufman provides a masterful, gripping tour along the frontiers of the search for extraterrestrial life and shows how this quest is inextricably linked with the struggle to understand life on Earth. As he transports readers from the parboiled netherworld of a South African platinum mine to Earth’s coldest, driest extremes, from an Alaskan volcano crackling with energy to microscopic Martian landscapes and ultimately to the ends of the cosmos, Kaufman brings into vivid focus the triumphs and frustrations of scientists as fascinating as the bizarre life forms they study.”

—Kathy Sawyer, author of The Rock from Mars

“Marc Kaufman brings to life the broad and increasingly successful effort by scientists to find signs of life beyond Earth. It's an exciting read about a scientific venture that will no doubt surprise and intrigue many people—especially when he takes us to incredibly exotic locations. Space, it seems, is the next frontier not only for exploration, but quite likely for learning about life as well.”

—Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors

“Marc Kaufman, a world-class reporter whose writing is clear and clean, is just the right author for First Contact. I found this book as thrilling as it is illuminating, as he takes us around the Earth and off into space in search of the beginnings of life here and probably elsewhere.”

—David Maraniss, author of They Marched into Sunlight and When Pride Still Mattered

"Fascinating . . . While genuine alien life, in any form, has yet to reveal itself, Kaufman’s tantalizing tour of the research that could achieve this breakthrough makes engrossing reading."


“With a child’s curiosity and a reporter’s skill, Kaufman delivers a concise, thorough, and utterly fascinating summary of the search for life elsewhere in the universe—and what it means for life on Earth. If you’ve ever wondered about life beyond Earth, let Marc Kaufman introduce you to the men and women who are searching for it. His explanations will make the night sky seem more vivid and the very life around you seem more improbable and precious.”

—Susan West, former executive editor of Smithsonian

“The range of this new field of astrobiology is exhilarating, and even though scientists are still learning how to sort out the hard science from the understandably infectious enthusiasm, getting to ride along with Kaufman is an expansive joy.” --The Washington Post


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439109001
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439109007
  • ASIN: B005GNK93Y
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,144,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a self-contained survey course on the latest efforts to find ET, or at least someplace out in deep space where ET could live. ET includes anything from microbes to advanced beings. There are sections in the book about earth-based extremophiles, the pros and cons over the definition of life, the debate over panspermia vs earth-based origins of life, Viking's mission to Mars and whether it was a success or failure, the latest findings in the search for exoplanets that highlights the relatively recent discovery of Gliese 581G, the laws of physics as they apply to our universe, including the role of fine structure numbers in the origin of life, and the consequences had those numbers been infinitesimally different, and finally, what happens the day after contact? On this topic the author spends a lot of time discussing the impact of first contact with ET on our various religious communities. Some religions would embrace the discovery without issue while others would be negatively affected. Regarding this, the author offers three options for discussion purposes:

"Option 1: We are alone in the universe and Earth is the only planet, moon, asteroid, comet or undiscovered other body anywhere with life.

Option 2: Only earth has complex life.

Option 3: Life exists beyond Earth and, in some instances, has become complex and most likely includes what we would consider intelligence."

Personally, I was hoping for more discussion of what our response would be should such a discovery be made tomorrow. Would we go crazy as they said we'd do back in the 1950's, or would it all be just another day of scientific discovery. One clue could be found in Bill Clinton's announcement of the Allen Hills Meteorite (ALH 84001).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is tough for me to review. It has always seemed to me that the search for life on other planets is akin to looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This book gives a very good description of tha search for life here on Earth in extreme enviorments-in ice, hot spring, deep inside Earth, etc.-along with the problems of finding life on other planets. I enjoyed the descriptions oh life on Earth that is newly discovered and the adventures that occour in looking for this life, but as far as finding life on another planet-I feel they have a long, long journy ahead.
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Format: Hardcover
While randomly searching for interesting literature, I found a singular copy of this book completely by chance, behind and under various books at an Ollie's discount store (perhaps a physical metaphor for the astrobiologist's search for life in our vast universe contained in the text?) I now consider this "accident" as one of the the best serendipitous discoveries of my 55 years!

Enlightening, educational, inspiring, exciting, and exponentially interesting, this book introduced me to current "cutting edge" scientific research currently underway involving our existence, the universe, extra-terrestrial life etc. and explained it in understandable terms. It is an easy and quick 200 page read, and you do not have to be a "space" geek or advanced scientist to enjoy and/or appreciate this text.

I am a Christian, "saved in 1979", so I do confess Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. Having stated this, I do believe in life on other planets. In fact, I find it intellectually insulting, considering the vastness of space, that anyone can conclude that we are alone in God's universe. In no way, do I find my positions incompatible. Quite the opposite, as an infinite Creator embraces variety.

I highly recommend this well written and well organized book. I thank Mr. Kaufman for writing it and I thank "my lucky stars" (pun intended) for finding it. It is a keeper and will be found in my personal library for the rest of my days.

Dr. Stanley E. Toompas, Optometrist,
& Author of "I'm the One the Other Isn't"
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