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Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  123 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
The acclaimed author of "In Search of Schrodinger's Cat" searches for life on other planetsAre we alone in the universe? Surely amidst the immensity of the cosmos there must be other intelligent life out there. Don't be so sure, says John Gribbin, one of today's best popular science writers. In this fascinating and intriguing new book, Gribbin argues that the very existenc ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by John Wiley & Sons (first published October 31st 2011)
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Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book, the author (a prominent British scientist) lends one more voice to the stark conclusion, which several other authors have raised lately, namely that we are alone in the Milky Way. Yes, this is in spite of the numerous recent discoveries of potentially habitable planets around other stars.

This all stems from Fermi's paradox -- in 1950, noted nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, while having lunch with colleagues, suddenly blurted out "Where is everybody". He reasoned that if there was a
Jose Moa
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Gribbin is a great popular science writer and in this book he has made a great job.The book is the complement to the Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee but the Gribbin book takes a more step an asks for technological inteligent life not only complex life, and makes more emphasis in the astronomical aspects at the light of last breakthougts as our very special position in the galaxy, by why our sun is not common,by why our solar sistema and planet earth are unlikely;the more unlikely is that ou ...more
B Kevin
Bad news for SETI enthusiasts. Our intelligent, technological species and civilization are the result of a long chain of very low probabilities. Multiply together a string of very small numbers, (i.e. the Drake Equation) and you get a vanishingly small number. Gribbin, as usually, provides a clear, cogent review of how we came to be. Finally an antidote to the Drake/Sagen groupies who think the universe is teaming with radio astronomers. Fermi's unanswered question. "Where are they?" has been an ...more
Nola Redd
Anyone who has taken a significant number of science classes will likely come to this book with the same bias I have, having been repeatedly taught that the Earth, the solar system, and the Milky Way are in no wise special. But Gribbin argues a perspective different from most scientists - that in the galaxy, at least, intelligent life is a rare occurrence, and that the Earth is likely exceedingly special, if not completely unique.

Gribban's arguments are often hampered by the fact that they are f
Scott Lupo
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Super interesting book taking the view that Earth, and the technological, intelligent beings inhabiting Earth, is a totally rare event in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way. I come from the view that with billions of stars in a galaxy and billions of galaxies throughout the universe that it just comes down to pure numbers. There has to be intelligent life out there somewhere. John Gribbin does a good job of saying "Hold on!", maybe we are the only intelligent life in the universe. He consedes th ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another discussion of the extraordinary events in the creation of the solar system where it is in the galaxy, how it seemed to have formed, how the earth seems to have formed, and endured, despite all sorts of assaults from without (the Late Heavy Bombardment, the Chixulub impact, the Tunguska event) and within (massive volcanic activity, continental formation and drifting, Snowball Earth and subsequent Ice Ages) that all contributed to the formation of life, and eventually to intelligent, techn ...more
Jan 29, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I thought that the author was actually a little weak on the science. Gribbin would make certain assertions about why particular conditions or processes in evolution were likely to be uncommon, attempt to support with one or two facts, but would then use these assertions later in the book as assumptions that formed the basis of other assertions. For example, he discussed the possibility of the earth crossing certain boundaries of density in the intergalactic medium made by the arms in the spiral ...more
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think the book relied too heavily upon our own, incompletely understood, story of intelligent life on earth (a big assumption!) to argue for the absence of all other forms of intelligent life in the universe. Yes, our story requires some lucky accidents and links in a chain, but there may well be other chains and other stories. The odds of an exact replication of our story and just that story probably are infinitesimal, but that's fallacious reasoning. The odds of an exact repetition of any su ...more
John Sheahan
Well argued, accessible, informative … But, it was an argument for the emphatic conclusion that there is no other technologically advanced species in our neck of the cosmic woods. Some of the statistical glosses irked me, for example the implication that 0.06% of the stars in our galaxy is a minuscule number. It isn't. When there are an estimated 100 billion stars (not including red dwarfs) in the galaxy, that small percentage comes to 60 million stars.
That we are 'special' in the universe I ca
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Intelligent life is amazingly unlikely and rare; perhaps we should take better care of the only planet where it exists.
Nov 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1986, Polish science fiction writer Stanisław Lem reviewed a fictional book called Das kreative Vernichtungsprinzip. The book wonders why, after several decades of search, SETI failed to find an extraterrestrial civilization capable of sending interstellar radio signals. The answer, according to the fictional author, is that there is only one civilization capable of doing it in the Milky Way, our own, which appeared and acquired this ability due to a series of improbable destructive catastrop ...more
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book wasn't quite what I expected, its basically an overview of all the things that had to go right in order for intelligent life to arrive on earth. So it goes from galaxy to star to planet formation in a fair amount of detail. I felt like this was the author's strong point that he has the best understanding of and it was interesting. He also spends a lot of time on the history of the earth and moon and seemingly unimportant things that had a significant effect on allowing intelligent life ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Until I read this book, I was of the opinion that intelligent life somewhere in the Universe was a foregone conclusion. With all the billions of galaxies and stars out there, how could intelligent life not be all over the place? The Drake Equation helped frame up the numbers for me. Certainly the Fermi Paradox (Where are they?) gave me pause, but still the unimaginable numbers of possible stellar systems meant that they were out there, even if they haven't visited us. Well, I'm not so sure anymo ...more
Elwood D Pennypacker
Professor Killjoy over here says anyone interested in making contact with extra-terrestrial intelligent civilizations should give up now. Probably none exist at all and if they do, too far away. But that's not all - the clocking is ticking on the human race (on this he's hard to argue with) so we'll probably wipe ourselves out if an asteroid doesn't get us first so it's all really pointless.

I kept reading for the moment in which, as he posits that the development of the human race and its advan
Dec 12, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy read, this book lays out the numerous conditions necessary for the evolution of a technological civilisation (ours), and makes the argument that because of all of them, it is likely that we are alone in the universe (duh). While the author did elaborate on the many different and logical requirements for our evolution, it is still not entirely convincing as the author made the decision not to quantify the likelihood of technological civilisations evolving after he got to 0.06% of all the ...more
David Woodside
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to improved astronomical methods, new technology and telescopes outside of the earth's atmosphere, new planets in our galaxy are discovered almost daily. Many are gas giants, but some are rocky. Given that there are up to a trillion stars in the Milky Way, and hundreds of new planets discovered in the past decade, many scientists conclude that there must be other intelligent life out there somewhere. In a well-made, scientific counter-argument, author John Gribbin asserts in "Alone in the ...more
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
An intriguing if somewhat depressing argument that a combination of factors makes it very likely that we are the only technnological socity in our galaxy. He points out that our place in cosmic time, our position in the galaxy, the amount of elements heavier than helium, chance encounters with a supernova in the past, and a variety of comet interactions and climate accidents have made life, complex life, and our species possible, but that these conditions are very unlikely to have occurred any w ...more
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
His thesis is that we are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, which I admit that I agreed with before reading the book. John Gribbin writes from a astronomer's perspective, so that part is what interested me - how many things would have to "go right" for intelligent life to even survive. While I take issue with the consistently evolutionary viewpoint that is assumed, along with so many unproven assumptions, it was still possible to learn many interesting astronomical phenomena. In the last ...more
Dave Schey
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
John Gribbin explains why he thinks we are probably alone in our Milky Way Galaxy. Whether this science is all new to you or you are already familiar with the science of cosmology and evolution, this book is a nice summary and review of what's new; written, as usual, in an easy, well explained, entertaining manner.
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Gribbin puts forth a strong argument and a fascinating look at all the reasons why there is life on our planet. Well worth the time!
Chris Cookson
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Depressing, but this guy makes a lot of good points. Oh well.
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John R. Gribbin is a British science writer, an astrophysicist, and a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex. The topical range of his prolific writings includes quantum physics, biographies of famous scientists, human evolution, the origins of the universe, climate change and global warming. His also writes science fiction.

John Gribbin graduated with his bachelor's degree in phy
More about John Gribbin...

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