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Showing 1-10 of 46 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 66 reviews
on December 8, 2013
Five Billion Years of Solitude really means 4.6 billion years of solitude, because that's how old the Earth is, and it is the only planet in the universe that we know for sure has life. Our planet has spent 4.6 billion years in solitude.

This book is about all aspects of humanity's search for life in the universe. It's a technical/scientific book told by Billings like a thriller. I love scientific subjects, and speculation about extraterrestrial life and exoplanets has always fascinated me.

Billings tells about the gyrations of NASA when trying to squeeze as much of its various projects out of limited dollars, the fickle behavior of short-lived congress that supplies the funds, and the lack of vision of most of our presidents, save John F. Kennedy.

He also tells the personal stories of the major players, the superstars of this burgeoning new scientific field, introducing a new key character almost every chapter. This gives a sometimes dry and scientific story a human touch that draws the reader in.

However, the reader must be interested in science, astronomy, and astrobiology, at least, to be able to work through this book. For me, it was perfect.

Five Billion Years of Solitude is a completely up to date (2013) study of the search for extraterrestrial life and all that this pertains, from mundane things like budgets for space telescopes, to human stories of the people involved and the competition of the planet finders, to the hard science of how one finds a planet around a star dozens of light years away where the star outshines the planet by a billion to one.

Some of the reviewers here blasted the book for inaccuracies, sloppiness and unfocused writing. I suspect that those reviewers are hard scientists, and I am sure they will find plenty of "glossing over" of scientific detail. I don't believe this book was meant to be a textbook on finding life in the universe, or an article for a scientific journal. I sense the book was written exactly for people like me: Science-minded amateurs, folks fascinated with and in awe of astronomy, philosophical minds that grapple with the place of humanity in the universe. I learned a lot of details of subjects that I knew nothing about before and had only read about in the occasional article in Time magazine. For me, it was an excellent introduction and an inspiration to read more on the subject and buy other books.

An eminently readable book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in science.
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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2013
Five Billion Years of Solitude - The Search for Life among the Stars - Lee Billings

Science journalist Lee Billings takes a decidedly enthusiastic yet rational survey of where we are collectively in the search for exoplanets (extra-solar planets around stars other than our sun) and signs of life. My takeaways from this insightful book are that finding "new earths" in the livable "goldilocks" region of a star is within our technical competence. This will require a dedicated and focused nation effort and considerable resources - two items currently in short supply. The next milestone will be ascertaining the markers that indicated life and habitation on the identified planets. One can only speculate what effects that discovery will have on our planet and society.

Author Billings makes this very interesting, yet highly technical topic, understandable for the inquisitive laymen without going soft on the science - which I greatly appreciated. He introduces us to several astronomers who have and are playing key roles in this field and lets them express their goals, plans, ideas and frustrations with the lack of national purpose on what would be one of the most momentous discoveries ever.

The ultimate goal would be to find unambiguous evidence of intelligence on another world. The author makes clear one very discouraging fact that even if we could overcome all obstacles, technical and man made, and clearly identify "earth-type planets" and positively recognize instantly recognizable markers of life we could still end up at the right place but the wrong time. Using our geological history as an example other civilizations surveying our planet during most of our billions of years of existence would never find a trace of mankind and our technological civilization - since they have existed only within a sliver of time.

A highly recommended book for all science students and their parents.

On a personal note the concept of life of any kind on a planet other than our own has been an idea that has intrigued and fascinated me for most of my life. This out of this world concept was fuelled by the sometimes lurid, sometimes thoughtful science-fiction books I read in the 1950's and morphed into an interest in astronomy and amateur rocketry in my teens. The cold sober reality of military service and adulthood never fully erased these ideas. As technology and space based telescopes revealed the tantalizing hints of extra-solar planets (exoplanets) what was a seemingly adolescent dream has become a reality. Now is anyone "out there" or are we alone - I would love to know in my lifetime.
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on March 6, 2014
We reviewed “Five Billion Years of Solitude” by Lee Billings at our monthly Book Club meeting in early March. It is difficult to sum up the individual comments of the 13 participants who read the book and attended the session. However, there was general consensus on several topics. It is a subject that gets little attention among casual readers and therefore a somewhat difficult read because of the unfamiliarity or lack of sense as to where the story is leading us – definitely not a Jack Reacher scenario. However, we were rewarded for our efforts with a greater appreciation for the science, the extraordinary strides over the relatively short time-span of man’s emergence onto the scene, and our evolving understanding of the history and immensity of the universe and the evolution of Earth as a habitable planet.
In the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, we are also confronted with what science tells us about the certain demise of our planet as a habitat for man (read humankind if you prefer). Scientist calculate the remaining life of our Sun at around 5 billion years, of which perhaps only a billion will be habitable before the rising temperatures become unsustainable for human life. All of this leads to the question; will we find a habitable alternative planet in the solar system to migrate to when we can no longer live here or will that be the end?
As far-fetched as that may seem at the moment, we only have to look at the extraordinary advances in our knowledge and understanding from the “earth is flat” days to the incredible new world where the development of electricity has led to technological advances beyond fathomable – what, maybe 50 years ago. And the beat goes on.
And the discussion, of course, would not be complete without some thought as to what all of this means in theological terms. In general, we did not see any conflict with scripture which says there is a beginning and there will be an end. Admittedly, the sun is destined to burn out but there is the possibility that we will be residing in the orbit of another more hospitable sun when that happens. Overall, however, we saw nothing that contradicts the existence of God and our “specialness” in the universe – although we recognize that there are those who would disagree.
Speaking of the advancement of technology, Lee Billings the author joined our discussion via Skype at which time we had the opportunity to discuss these topics at length and benefit from his particular insights. It was an extraordinary opportunity.
If you are like most of us who remember from our youth the vivid night sky and the wonderment that it inspired, and find that it has faded from our consciousness because we live in the city or an area flooded with ambient light, we think a trip through Lee’s book will inspire you to “look up” more often and appreciate anew the wonders of the heavens.
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on June 20, 2015
This book has some fascinating discussions about the search for habitable worlds and life in the universe. Seemingly everything you would expect to find is here: the famous Drake equation, SETI, the modern science of exoplanets, etc. The book also raises some interesting issues concerning the politics and turf battles of this scientific field, especially regarding NASA and government funding for the ambitious projects now being conceived to learn more about exoplanets.

While much of this is inherently fascinating, the book itself is at times disorganized, and Billings is prone to lengthy digressions. For example, one chapter addresses the geological history of Earth, with little attempt to connect this information to the broader narrative about the search for life on other planets. In another case, Billings devotes a long section of the final chapter to the personal life of one scientist. These digressions are unfortunate, because the book is otherwise an accessible and engaging read.

Stylistically, Billings puts his interviewees front and center in the book. Readers may find this satisfying or frustrating, depending on taste. My personal preference would be to mostly let the science itself take center stage, rather than delving into the personalities and family histories of some of the scientists involved in the search for life (or habitable planets) in the universe.

On another note, and as another reviewer indicates, the book includes no illustrations, which might have been helpful to illustrate some information covered in the text. (Fortunately, Sara Seager, the scientist whom Billings discusses at length in the final chapter, has a TED talk with some great animations of exoplanets that have been discovered through the Kepler telescope.)

All in all, it’s a decent book about a fascinating topic. I would give it 3.5 stars if that were an option, so I’ve rounded up to four.
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on May 5, 2014
We live in a very exciting time for fans of astronomy and physics. Lee Billings does a fantastic job of showing where today's leading astronomers are in the search for planets around other stars. Billings clearly loves the subject and his enthusiasm is infectuous. With great prose and storytelling, Billings tells us exactly where we are right now in the field of astronomy and he gives fascinating context as to how we got here. He's good at both explaining the specifics of certain concepts — for example how planets are detected and how we might know if life exists on those planets, and the general — like how certain theories in Greek philosophy set us off track for thousands of years.

What is most thrilling is that Billings conducts in-depth interviews with astronomers today who will be remembered as the Copernicus and Haleys of our time. Imagine getting a front-row seat on the life and ideas of the scientists who are making incredible discoveries every day. Billings delivers.
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on September 21, 2015
A well researched book into the work being done, and not done, in the field of astrobiology. Lee Billings has some engaging personal descriptions and narratives of some top researchers in the field, their hopes, their feuds, and too frequently, the evaporation of funding.
It is both a hopeful and disturbing investigation into one of the most interesting scientific questions; whether life exists beyond earth and how common it might be. Hopeful, in that we should be able to discover this with both the technological capability that we have and the dedicated work of the scientists in the field. And disturbing in showing how many political obstacles are in the way of answering such pivotal and paradigm shifting discoveries.
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on October 25, 2014
Very well informed in every dimension from a scientific standpoint. Style is infuriating. He wanders away from his theme constantly to explore the minute details of the private lives of the main scientists whose work and research he explores. For example he describes the dress being worn by a female scientist who heads a seminar. Then details her courtship with her future husband etc etc.

This book would have bee much better if the author had stuck to what he is very good at - the many dimensions if his explorations, which are very current. Consequently we could have learned more easily.
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on October 16, 2013
This is a beautifully written book, as one might expect from a journalist. However, it casts a much wider net than some of the reviews would have you believe. On the surface it is a potpourri of thoughts from personal interviews of those who may be considered a part of the astrobiology community. And not just the three personalities mentioned on the book jacket. Within the pages there is much more. There are some outstanding summaries of processes from the formation of the solar system, to the formation of the Marcellus shale. Of course, astrobiology of necessity is interested in both of these, as well as global warming and other Earthly matters, because the best way to understand the formation and nature of extrasolar planets is to understand the planet beneath our feet. This leads me to a couple of criticisms of the book. The titles of the chapters do not give you much of an idea of what the chapter is about, as if the author was playing with you. Even the title and sub-title of the book can be misleading. As I said, this is much more than just about the search for life or some extrasolar planets. There are astronomy, geology, biology, global change and other science topics covered, and covered quite well. Finally, although I wasn't able to put my finger on it precisely, there seems to be one thread in the fabric of the astrobiology tapestry woven that is missing, and it just kept gnawing at me. For the record, the writing style reminded me of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Lots of stream of consciousness, in my opinion.
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on December 16, 2013
He describes the personalities, the technology, the astrobiology, the dreams, the politics, the disappointment, and the adventure of astronomical exploration in it's spirited search for life beyond our solar system, and brings the reader into the day-to-day world of planetary scientists and astronomers and their work in world-changing discoveries.

More than you might think,he demonstrates how the star-gazers insights are proving ever more crucial to understanding life's intricate mysteries and possibilites right here on Earth. This is one of the best books I've ever read about the search for life among the stars.
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on February 9, 2014
I found this book somewhat interesting, but like so many books I read, I found the topic was not exactly what I was expecting. I found that the review from “Publishers Weekly” which was posted on Amazon to be the most accurate review of this book.
The book is well written, but it does not focus on "life among the stars," but rather the hunt for planets beyond our solar system. I found this book to be a good book on the history of extrasolar planet discovery. If this is your interest, then I recommend this book. If you are looking for a book about life outside our solar system, I would find another book.
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