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Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  644 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
An intimate history of Earth and the quest for life beyond the solar system

For 4.6 billion years our living planet has been alone in a vast and silent universe. But soon, Earth's isolation could come to an end. Over the past two decades, astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Some of these exoplanets may be mirror images of our own world. An
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 3rd 2013 by Current
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Clif Hostetler
Dec 23, 2013 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book reads much as if it was based on notes taken during an all night bull session with leading scientists. It's sort of a travelogue by a journalist reporting on his itinerant interviews with the leading minds in astrophysics and the earth sciences.  Along the way we learn about science and also a bit about the personalities of those doing the science.

Beyond their personal stories and concerns about reduced funding for scientific research, the reader is exposed to “a portrait of our plane
Oct 17, 2013 Adam rated it liked it
In the final chapter of Lee Billings' Five Billion Years of Solitude, after more than 200 pages of dense exoplanetary prose and interviews with respected astronomists, we're introduced to Sara Seager, a middle-aged scientist at MIT who is one of the world's foremost experts on exoplanets--that is, earth-like worlds existing beyond the scope of our current scientific reach. Unlike the book's other chapters, however, Seager is introduced to us not through the complexity of her research, the revela ...more
Oct 16, 2013 Owlseyes marked it as to-read
Shelves: astronomy, exoplanets

Ultracool Dwarf and the Seven Planets
Temperate Earth-sized Worlds Found in Extraordinarily Rich Planetary System
22 February 2017*

Apr 20, 14, today, I've read this on CNN:"A galaxy full of Earths?" By Jim Bell. It's one more alike-planet;according to the article," Thomas Barclay, a scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames and a co-author of a paper on the planet, called Kepler-186f"..."an "Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin".

"The planet was discovered by
Atila Iamarino
Nov 09, 2016 Atila Iamarino rated it really liked it
Uma ótima explicação sobre a busca por vida inteligente no espaço, mais voltada para condições do que para sinais de rádio e SETI – que o The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence explica mais. Ele dá uma ótima atualizada sobre o que entendemos sobre formação de planetas, evolução e, principalmente, detecção de exoplanetas, que é a área que mais avançou. A explicação sobre como detectamos planetas pelo rebolado das estrelas ou pelo sombreamento que causam, e as perspectivas d ...more
John Jr.
Oct 03, 2013 John Jr. rated it really liked it
Science writer Lee Billings accomplishes a lot in the pages of Five Billion Years of Solitude (published in the U.S. in October 2013 by Current). He describes the entire history of Earth, including the rise and spread of life; the history of thinking about Earth’s place in the universe; and the history of efforts to locate other planets and other intelligences. He also considers the future of life on this planet and of the exoplanet search. The book would be valuable if it did no more, but the b ...more
Daniel Villines
Dec 08, 2013 Daniel Villines rated it really liked it
Lee Billings captures the current state of affairs associated with the search for exoplanets and life beyond our solar system. He creates a detailed picture that includes the history of this search up through its present-day composition, and the final composition resembles a hopeless mess.

Past and present, the effort to find life among the stars rolls around on a tabletop landing at various times between the inter-competition of scientists, the bickering of politicians, and a public that loves s
May 16, 2016 Jeff rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
As a kid I was obsessed with space. And I still love to sit and think about what's out there beyond and within our visible universe. This book was not a typical read for me but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would certainly recommend it for anyone that is interested in the historical timeline of our search for life outside our earthly realm, especially if that person loves science and math and physics etc. All said and done it was a bit of a grind at times, and I found sometimes I got a bit off cou ...more
Jan 27, 2014 James rated it it was amazing
There is a quote somewhere in this book about simultaneously feeling very large and very, very small. That captures the experience of reading this book. It is incredible how far the human race has reached into the cosmos, but also, how that progress is at risk because of our own failings. Mandatory reading for anyone with a curiosity in how we fit into the universe, and a desire to know what comes next.
Jan 20, 2016 Charlene rated it really liked it
I liked this book quite a bit, but I am a sucker for planet formation and the search for other habitable planets. I would say however that I would like this book to have talked in depth about brown dwarfs and some of the newer ideas about how matter accretes to form planets. If you too want to read about the magic of brown dwarfs (a cross between a planet and a star!), I suggest Strange New Worlds by Ray Jayawardhana.

This book had a really nice mix of biology (Earth formation) and physics (gene
Allison Arthur
Dec 13, 2013 Allison Arthur rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the search for alien life and space exploration.

From SETI to enormous telescopes with sunshades, Billings describes the various ways scientists are endeavoring to discover life on other planets. He's thorough and makes complicated information easy to consume for mainstream readers.

What struck me as I made my way through the pages, however, wasn't the wealth of knowledge Billings acquired and effectively communicates, but the con
Sam Bauman
Jan 27, 2015 Sam Bauman rated it liked it
I took astronomy twice in college so I know quite a bit about space but Lee still taught me lots about it in this book. He writes in a nice enjoyable style and as long as you enjoy the topic, it's a book worth reading. I wish he had talked more about Scorpios though.

P.S. This review is biased since I drank a bunch of beer at Lee's house in the early 2000s. The opinion expressed above should be assumed to be wrong. Always.
Oct 22, 2014 Rachael rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book and learned a lot about exoplanets, as well as environmental impacts and the politics of NASA. There were several chapters that just felt too long and I would find myself skimming to get to new information. I'd still recommend it though.
Dec 19, 2014 Rusty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, aren't we living in a slow apocalypse. At least that's the vibe I get from reading this book. A non-fiction book about, well, just what the title talks about, The Search for Life Among the Stars.

I tend to have gallows sort of humor about life. I remember reading, many years ago, a book called, the Waning of the Middle Ages and was stunned about how, for the most part, people had the most pessimistic view about life. Turns out I would have fit right in back then. The only difference is tha
Jan 10, 2015 Nicole rated it it was ok
1.5 Stars. I was really excited about this book. I took the bare minimum of science in college, but one of those courses was Astronomy 110: Planets and Stars. I love this stuff. And I loved the parts of this book that actually talked about planets -- and exoplanets! -- and stars. But during the last chapter, I literally thought Audible had accidentally spliced a romance novel into the file. I'm pretty sure Billings had intimate relations with astronomer Sara Seager - I'm almost positive that was ...more
May 19, 2014 James rated it it was amazing
Five Billion Years of Solitude, written by Lee Billings, is an excellent primer on the issues of life, death and survival facing the human race. The primary subject is the search for exoplanets, but Billings covers much more than that. He describes in understandable terms the geological history of the Earth (in the process debunking the pseudo-science of Creationism), the search for extraterrestrial life and habitable planets, and issues of more current interest, such as what the real stakes are ...more
Aug 12, 2013 Caitlin rated it it was amazing
Absolutely wonderful.
This is one of my all-time favorites, and if it weren't for the Giveaway on Goodreads I would never have known about it. Billings went to such lengths to find information, traveling all over, staying with family or friends and pushing through. I was not sure what to expect from this book, the brief description on the back cover is a bit deceiving? Or off-key to me...

The chapters cover so many different topics: Global warming & its relation to the formation of our planet,
Nov 09, 2013 Gendou rated it really liked it
Read this book if you want to learn a bit about exoplanets, planetary habitability, and exobiology. Be warned that this book may depress you, however. It talks about the cancellation of the Terrestrial Planet Finder, SETI having always to beg for money, the bureaucratic compromises that doomed the shuttle program, and delays in projects like Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes. The reader is also disillusioned by the revelation that our planet can only sustain human life for another billion y ...more
Sep 22, 2013 Marvin rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, giveaway
This is a Goodreads Giveaway. I read this book anticipating, I'm not sure what, information, progress or answers. I finished this book with questions and anger. To me the whole space program including the search for intelligent life in the universe has been derailed from lack of vision and positive direction. Mr. Billings only confirmed my view of a handicapped NASA, a nonexistent government directive or endorsement. Leaders will have to come from entrepreneurs willing to invest in the promises ...more
David Downes
Nov 24, 2013 David Downes rated it it was amazing
Really interesting and heartfelt exploration of an important and underappreciated topic. The scientific discovery of planets many light years away, and exploration of conditions on the surface of those planets, is fascinating and impressive. Billings does a great job of interweaving this exploration of far-distant worlds with the growing understanding of the history, far into the deep past, of life on our own Earth. Sadly, the space and science programs that support the meaningful work described ...more
Doug Cornelius
Mar 28, 2016 Doug Cornelius rated it it was amazing
Will we ever discover intelligent life beyond our planet? Is there is intelligent life beyond ours? Are there habitable planets other than Earth? Will humans be around long enough to to find out? Or be discovered by other civilizations?

This book offers both hopeful and melancholy answers to these questions. The truth is that we don't know. There are a multitude of factors to consider. This book discusses many of them in a thoughtful and wonderful way.
Nancy Atkinson
Nov 21, 2016 Nancy Atkinson rated it it was amazing
As far as our understanding of life in the Universe goes, right now, we’re it. But the past decade has brought discoveries of thousands of planets orbiting other stars, some of which could potentially host life. Five Billion Years of Solitude is a comprehensive look at the exciting field of searching for extrasolar planets. It takes a look at some of the remarkable scientists and the incredible discoveries being made.
Christian Schoon
Dec 23, 2013 Christian Schoon rated it really liked it
Well crafted overview of the (sadly underfunded) state of exoplanet research as currently conducted by the US and other nations. Has a few vaguely annoying digressions into private lives that seem less than illuminating and unnecessary, but otherwise worth your time if you're fascinated by the hunt for earth-like worlds.
Oct 30, 2013 Kate rated it it was amazing
I had to take it back to the library before I could finish it, but I'll give it five stars for the observation that the sun could be used as a lens alone.
Eric Roston
Terrifically articulate, in-depth, and personable. This is a key book for anyone interested in the greatest, most eye-opening success in astronomy in a generation.
Jan 13, 2014 Michael rated it liked it
More than science fiction, I find non-fiction books about science to be far more fascinating, mind bending reading. I recently read “Why does the world Exist?” by Jim Holt which was about the search for understanding reality and how everything in the universe may have come about. This was a macro-level take on the possible explanations for the existence of the universe and conscious life over the estimated 14 billion years since we think it all began. I decided to read “Five Billion years of Sol ...more
Mar 01, 2015 Iain rated it really liked it
Lee Billings very well researched book "Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars", puts the cosmos and our search for the answer to the age old question, "are we alone?", into a daunting perspective. Is there life out there in the universe? The sheer number of places for it to evolve would mathematically would indicate absolutely but it is really really really (expand exponentially) far away. Our nearest neighbour is 4.37 light years away and our fastest moving man mad ...more
May 19, 2014 Kimw rated it really liked it
An extremely well-written book about the search for extraterrestrial life. I find myself sticking post-it notes throughout with the book's revelation of interesting details. Frank Drake, the father of SETI, quickly scribbled his Drake's Equation, intending it as an impromptu guide for a meeting of scientist luminaries at the time. The contemporary Frank Drake, per an interview with the author, admits that we have evolved with surprising speed into a comparatively radio quiet civilization in the ...more
David Czuba
Finally, here is the science book in the vein of Richard Preston's First Light to place high on the shelf. Indeed, Billings's book wears the pedigree of a Preston mention on the jacket. If you, like most of this book's readership, entertain a penultimate vision of where all human intelligence is headed, then the stars are your focus, and Billings is your guide. Short of handing you your ticket, Billings lays out the frontier of exoplanet research - the search for Earth-like worlds (and if not ...more
D.L. Morrese
Apr 23, 2015 D.L. Morrese rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-nonfiction
Subtitled 'The Search for Life Among the Stars', the author first looks at the one planet we know most about, Earth; how it began, how life came about, what it was like before humans came into the picture and what it will be like after we're gone. It's a good overview. The one inescapable take away from this book is an appreciation for how rare Earth is. So far, it is the only planet we know of on which life exists...and for most of our planet's existence, life could not exist even here. Billion ...more
May 12, 2014 Geoff rated it really liked it
Sharply and compellingly written history of the search for extraterrestrial life, or at least planets. Since necessarily the actual history and science of exoplanets is somewhat limited, Billings brings, on the history side, deft character sketches of key people in the field, and the motivations and insights that drove them to gamble their careers on exoplanets or SETI, when those fields were (and still are) looked upon by mainstream astronomers as beneath their dignity. On the science side, Bil ...more
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Lee Billings writes about the intersections of science, technology, and culture for Nature, Nautilus, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, and many other publications.

His first book, Five Billion Years of Solitude, chronicles the scientific quest to discover other Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe.

Billings lives in New York City with his wife, Melissa.
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“I have lost tolerance for things without meaning. There is no time for them. Does that make sense? - Sara Seager” 2 likes
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