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First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth
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First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  99 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
Now in paperback, Marc Kaufman’s riveting, game-changing book tells the incredible true story of science’s search for the beginnings of life on Earth—and the likelihood of it existing elsewhere in our universe.

For decades, researchers assumed that the genesis of life was too delicate a process, and the conditions needed to support it too fragile, for it to exist anywhere o
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Simon Schuster (first published March 15th 2011)
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Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Imagine the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack. Fortunately, anyone searching knows what a needle is. Multiply the strands of hay billions of times and you're approaching one of the haystacks in which those in search of extraterrestrial life are working. Yet their effort struggles with a fundamental question: How do you define "life"? As science journalist Marc Kaufman points out in a new book, the answer is not as easy as it might seem. More important, the definition ultimately ar ...more
May 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Author Mark Kaufman believes that before the end of the century, maybe well before, scientists will have determined that life exists elsewhere in the universe, and his book makes a fascinating and compelling case for it. Before they can do that however, scientists will have to determine exactly what life is, a question that is surprisingly hard to answer because it is not always clear what is alive and what is not. One example is the case of desert varnish, an extremely slow growing patina found ...more
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
I don't know what this book was missing but it felt... incomplete.

The author does a good job summarizing the usual topics such as planet hunting, SETI, the Murchison meteorite, panspermia, the anthropic principle, and extremophiles. He makes it even more engaging with a wide variety of interviews with primarily astronomers and exobiologists and it's all very interesting. I was just surprised I could be so ambivalent while reading about the most important scientific endeavor humanity will probab
Nov 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is written for the interested nonscientist. Because of this, some parts are so poorly explained to be gratuitous, such as the part on multiple universes. Ideas that can be easily explained to a nonspecialist are done wee, such as the discussion on Carol Cleland and Chris Chybo's argument taht the basic information for coming up with a definition of "life" is absent, much as 800 years ago it was impossible to define "water" with any scientific value. I think it did best on the descripti ...more
Chris Chester
May 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a straight-forward and incredibly interesting look at the current state of the burgeoning field of astrobiology, or the search for alien life.

It sounds like a far-fetched premise, but as Kaufman explains throughout the book, most of the science being performed is firmly grounded in sound chemical and biological precedent.

While the search for alien signals with massive arrays of radio telescopes is perhaps the closest the science comes to our imagination, most of the good work being done
Jun 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not too geeky or challenging to read late at night. Even though the topics are hefty (how do we define "life"? are we alone in the universe?), it's very accessible. Kaufman does a good job describing advances made recently and in the past 20 years, at a high level, so you can get an idea of what's going on without having to be a professional biologist or astronomer. It's refreshing to think big thoughts, "look up" from our busy lives, and realize how small we are, and how miraculous our planet ( ...more
ej cullen
An interesting sideline in this readable book is that scientists from wide and various disciplines cannot, to this day, even agree on a definition of "life." That the newest generation of thinkers have finally accepted astrobiology and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) as legitimate scientific pursuits, and with the discovery of the existence of uncountable exoplanets within our enormous, perpetually expanding and unfathomable universe, some of which are indubitably very similar to ...more
Anthony Bolton
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great read. Brief, concise but exiting and immersive dip into this fascinating area of modern scientific endeavor. Written with a really infectious sense of wonder and inquiry into the process and personalities involved.Reminded me of that other great popular science book `First Light`, though not quite as great as that . ...more
Simge Perçin
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you wanna know what we've in mind for life on space, this is your book! Apparently author made delicate research , also there're some nice facetoface convos with scientists. It's so easy to read for a non-science reader such as me. I wish it was written after the Curiosity. But what can we do, science doesn't have stop points.
Chris Aylott
Solid round-up of the current state of the search for extraterrestrial life. A lot of this is old news if you've been paying attention to the headlines of the past few years (Gliese 581 g, Mono Lake, etc.). What's exciting is seeing it all together in one place and realizing just how much is going on and how many scientific disciplines are involved.
Garry Alexander
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In conclusion, this is truly a fascinating book about the hunt for life beyond Earth. Especially if you're really interested in astrobiology or wondering about life in outer space, then this book will help you look more deeply and it can illuminate you to understand something in a new way.
Dennis Menke
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read for people who want to know about what scientists are doing to learn about extraterrestrial life. Turns out the science is terrific, the scientists are interesting, and the book presents it all in a compelling way.
Tony Turner
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very fascinating read! An accessible introduction to the study of Astrobiology.
Lynn Litterine
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David James
An interesting book on the current state of astrobiology. Easily grasped and written well so that anyone can understand it. It is far too brief, however.
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremophiles. Exoplanets. Non-Carbon based life. All fascinating science and open speculation about life (however you define it) beyond earth and even here on Earth.
Sluggish Neko
Aug 27, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The science surveyed in the book is very interesting, but it's not helped by the author's dry style or his shallow treatment of the experiments.
Bill Kubeck
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was going to write a glowing review, but Jaylia3 did it first. Read that review to find out what I think. :-)
Daniel Ginsburg
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is well written and while it's not one of the best I've ever read, it's remarkably good considering the subject matter and how well it flows. Deserves a permanent space on my shelf.
Ronan O'Driscoll
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good survey of an interesting field of science: astrobiology. This is not x-files stuff. Nice that it mentioned Nishi Harima telescope. Wish I had known about it when I lived there.
Apr 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, I cheated on this one by reading it online where they skip some pages on purpose but what I read of it is very interesting and maybe I will read the entire book later.
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May 29, 2012
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