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Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  417 ratings  ·  84 reviews
In the 1980s and 1990s, in places where no one thought it possible, scientists found organisms they called extremophiles: lovers of extremes. There were bacteria in volcanic hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, single-celled algae in Antarctic ice floes, and fungi in the cooling pools of nuclear reactors.
But might there be life stranger than the most extreme extremophile
Hardcover, 268 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company (first published February 19th 2013)
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Emma Fiori He makes some conjectures about the potential for intelligent life, but this book is mostly about the forms that "extreme/weird" life might take and…moreHe makes some conjectures about the potential for intelligent life, but this book is mostly about the forms that "extreme/weird" life might take and the environments it might live in rather than the potential for intelligent society.(less)

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3.69  · 
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 ·  417 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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Susan Tunis
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“For the moment, then, let’s allow our imaginations free reign.”

Look, I’m as geeky as the next girl. How can you hear the subject matter of this book and not be fascinated? David Toomey opens Weird Life exactly where I would expect—with extremophiles. Extremophiles are some of the most unusual and extraordinary creatures in all of biology. Which makes sense, because life = biology. Right?

That’s what I thought, but clearly that’s due to a massive failure of imagination on my part. One the most im
Oct 03, 2013 rated it liked it
"In recent years, scientists at the frontiers of biology have hypothesized the existence of life-forms that can only be called “weird”: organisms that live off acid rather than water, microbes that thrive at temperatures and pressure levels so extreme that their cellular structures should break down, perhaps even organisms that reproduce without DNA. The search for these strange life-forms spans the universe, from rock surfaces in the American southwest and hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor ...more
Daniel Roy
I hate it when I really, really want to like a book, and it just doesn't let me. I should have loved this one: it's all about "weird" life that is theoretically distinct from our own, and it talks about everything from the shadow biosphere to SETI and the anthropic principle. This is one of my pet obsessions, and one of the big reasons I read SF in the first place. Exotic life! Alternate forms of intelligence! Alien civilizations!

Except that a book about weird life is, by definition, gonna talk
Nicole R
Brian Greene light when I was expecting David Attenborough.

Before I get into why this book wasn't what I thought it was going to be, let me explain what it was. It was a very well-written and concise explanation of the possibility of - and search for - extraterrestrial life. Or, better described, weird life. Life that doesn't even closely resemble any kind of life here. We're talking silicon instead of carbon, methane instead of oxygen, and maybe even two-up quark hydrogens (I know! Getting craz
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Here's the thing; if you're a bit of a science nerd, you're going to love this book. If you're not, you probably won't. The good news is that Toomey is an outstanding writer, making detailed concepts of theoretical physics, astrobiology, chemistry and other hard sciences understandable for a general audience. If you like to play with the What Ifs and How Comes of some of life's big questions, you'll enjoy Weird Life very much. Starting with the "weird life" we know about - the creatures that liv ...more
The mystery of the origins of life is one that I have been trying to wrap my head around for many years. We've learned in biology class that all life on earth originated from a single ancestor that existed billions of years ago. All known lifeforms today are similar on a molecular level (DNA), and this suggests a common origin. This explanation always left me with plenty of questions. Was the transition to life from non-living matter just that one time, one place occurrence, or have there been m ...more
Ben McFarland
Oct 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Books are fascinating windows into people. Take Weird Life, for example. The author is interested in the biology and physics, and in presenting a bunch of ideas, not tearing them down. On the Myers-Briggs J vs. P metric this book is clearly a Perceiving "P" not a Judging "J." This has an important place in the ecosystem of scientific information, and it was a very entertaining book in its sheer diversity of ideas.

In this book, David Toomey describes all forms of life in the weirdest settings pos
Jul 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
I thought this book was going to be along the lines of Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex, an exploration of the weird life like those extremophiles living in those crazy sea vents. So I picked it up and started reading and then I realized that it was supposed to be a history of the scientific discovery of the weird organisms like those extremophiles.

Then i finished the second chapter and realized it wasn't that either. This is my biggest problem with the book, that it didn't seem cohesive and focused.
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it
All known life on earth has essentially the same base biochemistry -- proteins are built out of amino acids by ribosomes, based on genetic instructions stored as DNA in a specific code. There's enough arbitrariness in the code that it we are basically certain all known life had a universal common ancestor. This book discusses life that does not come from that ancestry. This includes extraterrestrial life, but also the possibility of a shadow biosphere on earth, the possibility of life not based ...more
Atila Iamarino
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Acho peguei este livro pra ler com expectativas erradas. Achei que fosse discutir os aspectos biológicos de organismos que poderiam existir. O que li foi especulação em cima de especulação. Forte. De como seriam organismos completamente inviáveis a uma viagem louca sobre universos paralelos e outras dimensões físicas. Pode ser o livro certo pra pessoa errada, mas só terminei de ler por muita persistência.
Nicholas Alfonso Diaz
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved everything about this book. Going into it, I knew nothing about bacteria, single-celled algae, and extremophiles. Interesting, and insightful on where life might exist on earth and on other worlds.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Enjoyed the walk into the weird life and what really constitutes weird. Enjoyed the examples of looking at life on other planets and the forms they could take contradictory to our own. Best one was the example of cloud based life that someone wrote a book on.
Nick Blood
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this book in two sittings, about 4 months apart, so it may not be the most accurate recollection.

Writing style and accessibility:

The first thing to say about Toomey's writing is that it's clear and concise, while being colorful and imaginative enough to keep you turning the pages. Couple that with the interesting (to me) subject matter, and it was easy to burn through this book when I had the time to sit down and do so. It wasn't too demanding of prior knowledge, and with only a high sch
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: natural-history
While I appreciate the effort, this book reads more like an extended bibliography than anything informative. Toomey is too far removed the from the subject matter to be able to speak with authority. The ideas are a little thought-provoking, but much of that is tamped down by the arms' length presentation. Even the chapter on science fiction reads like he hasn't actually read any of the books he's listed.

I know it's the nature of the beast, but a glaring problem I had with the book was that most
May 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: animals
This would be a useful book for anyone planning to write science fiction.

I picked this up because I thought it would be about extremophiles. It isn't- extremophiles are only examined at the very beginning of this book. The author's main idea seems to be that, up until a few decades ago, creatures that could thrive in below-freezing and superheated environments were science fiction. Now that we know they are fact, what other fictional life forms might actually exist? How should that affect our se
I thought this was going to be about 'extremophiles,' those bits of the natural world that thrive in places too hot or too cold or dark or acidic for conventional life. It was actually about the entierely theoretical possibility of life with no common ancestry with anything we're aware of - e.g. life that might be based on silicon or arsenic instead of carbon or water.

This way Interesting in parts, but too esoteric to be satisfying on the whole. The turn towards theoretical physics in the later
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I've always found the biology of the deep, deep ocean fascinating, and this book gives a nice overview of some of that. I found my attention wondering as author David Toomey got more and more theoretical as the book progressed, but still found it worth reading.

It is amazing to think just how much we don't know. From the book:

"The Census of Marine Life, a decade-long project to make a comprehensive tally of life in Earth's oceans, found 5,000 previously unknown species, including an animal that
Jerry Pogan
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is not at all what I was expecting when I started to read it. The title is a little misleading because I was expecting to read something about known weird life like extremophiles (which it does discuss) and other strange creatures. However, it goes into far more areas of discussion than that and is much more interesting because of it. From trying to define life (which we can't really do) to how life could actually start and the ingredients needed, even a little bit of physics and cosmo ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a pretty good intro to life as we know it to prepare you to consider the possibility of life wildly different from ours. This book explores the possibility of different forms of life from the planetary crust up through ocean vents to land, atmosphere, comets, and other dimensions(!), through cutting edge science to speculative science fiction. It's mostly focused on the microbial because that appears to be the bulk of life and its beginnings, but has a cool section on intelligent life w ...more
For such a short book, this one covers a lot of ground: from extremophiles to the ultimate-ensemble multiverse and beyond. The treatment is light and readable and does not shy away from purely speculative and science-fictional aspects of the subject. A good intro to a rather narrow subset of astrobiological problems that covers a bit of introductory physics, astrophysics and cosmology as well.
P Michael N
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read about what life there could be, what we've tried to do to find it and how it may operate. It's crazy to realise how much we don't know about life right now so I'm excited to see what will follow. The book starts off with a down to Earth look at how we got to our current understanding and leaps off into fantastic ideas and research about what we may find.
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a *fascinating* read. It's basically about the search for life *not* as we know it-- creatures that exist wholly outside of our own evolutionary chain or what we know as "familiar" life (some of which isn't so familiar). The book moves from the unusual (creatures that don't quite fit into the classifications we're used to), to life as we have only recently come to know it (the extremophiles that thrive in conditions on Earth that we (humans) previously believed could not sustain life), ...more
Sam Jamison
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting exploration of the potential for weird life on our planet, our universe, and other universes. Toomey is also a good writer and the book was a joy to read.
Alyssa W
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
A good primer on the search for extraterrestrial life, or even just life that's different from our own. Definitely interesting, but not so interesting that it changed my life. Just a good read.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Toomey made me think deeply about the very meaning of life (quite literally) - several times per page. And I despise thinking, so that is saying something.
Jessica Kuzmier
The origins of life hold a great deal of fascination for many, be they philosophers, scientists or just an average person looking up at the stars contemplating, ‘how did we all get this way, anyway?’

David Toomey’s ‘Weird Life’ is an entire book that explores the possibilities of not only the origins of life, but what unusual branches and roads it may have taken once it all started. As a general science writer, Toomey gives a good overview of not only everyday life forms in an oxygen atmosphere
Dan Falk
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you spend even a modest chunk of your day glued to social media websites, you’ll have seen links to a site called “WTF evolution?” There, you can scroll through a parade of bizarre creatures, from to the goblin shark (which resembles a fierce undersea unicorn) to the geoduck (a burrowing clam that looks a like an amputated finger) to the aptly named blobfish. They’re peculiar, all right – but they’re not as strange as the creatures David Toomey is on the hunt for in Weird Life.

In fact, such c
Last Ranger
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing

A Stranger in the Garden:

Are we alone in the universe? What are the "limits" of life on Earth? Questions like these have piqued the interest of scientist's for centuries and we are no closer now to finding all the answers then we were when Aristotle first speculated about biological life. In "Weird Life" author David Toomey, an English professor who's research interest are in science writing, has written a fascinating summary of our efforts to answer these questions and define the parameters of
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic-science
Weird Life takes on the question, “what forms can life exist in besides the carbon-based, water-saturated, oxygen-metabolizing, DNA-encoded ones we’re most familiar with?” Which leads to other questions: did life evolve on Earth more than once? Is there a “shadow” evolutionary tree, whose organisms work differently, and perhaps are specially adapted to hostile environments like undersea hot vents? Could there be life elsewhere in the solar system, in the clouds of Jupiter, the methane seas of Ti ...more
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Find my full review, with specific notes and greater analysis, on my blog, The Inner Scientist: https://theinnerscientist.wordpress.c...

Weird Life: The Search for Life that is Very, Very Different from Our Own by David Toomey is a book with a self-explanatory title that suggests wonder and discovery. It does not disappoint.

Weird life is defined as being life that does not share a common ancestor with any of the life currently known on Earth. As in, it is life with a completely separate origin st
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