Five Billion Years of Solitude
The Search for Life Among the Stars
ISBN 9780698137684 | 304 pages | 03 Oct 2013 | Current Hardcover | 18 - AND UP
Summary of Five Billion Years of Solitude Summary of Five Billion Years of Solitude Reviews for Five Billion Years of Solitude An Excerpt from Five Billion Years of Solitude
An intimate history of Earth and the quest for life beyond the solar system
Since its formation nearly five billion years ago, our planet has been the sole living world in a vast and silent universe. Now, Earth’s isolation is coming to an end. Over the past two decades, astronomers have discovered thousands of “exoplanets” orbiting other stars, including some that could be similar to our own world. Studying those distant planets for signs of life will be crucial to understanding life's intricate mysteries right here on Earth.
In a firsthand account of this unfolding revolution, Lee Billings draws on interviews with top researchers. He reveals how the search for other Earth-like planets is not only a scientific pursuit, but also a reflection of our culture’s timeless hopes, dreams, and fears.
This is a compelling story of the pioneers seeking the meaning of life in the infinite depths of space.
“Graceful... the best book I have read about exoplanets, and one of the few whose language approaches the grandeur of a quest that is practically as old as our genes."
—New York Times Book Review
“Will leave readers who aren’t rocket scientists slack-jawed”
—New York Times “Newly Released” Column
“Lee Billings, an American science journalist, has written a definitive guide to astronomy’s hottest field.”
“This book is sweeping in scope, from the creation of the coal belts in Pennsylvania to the moving details of a single canoe trip across the Canadian wilderness. In these juxtapositions, Billings performs a brilliant sleight of hand…the ending is a poignant reminder that humankind may yet find a way to the stars, but people — the ones we know, the ones we love, the ones we lose — are our entire history and our full universe.”
—The Washington Post
"...the search for Earth-like worlds orbiting distant stars is just a step in the age-old quest to learn whether or not we are alone in the universe. In his compelling, wide-ranging survey, Billings steps back to look at this broader picture, largely through richly textured portraits of some of the giants of the field...[an] extraordinary tale of scientific discovery."
“Science writer Lee Billings deftly captures both behind-the-scenes ructions and landmark discoveries in his tour of this multidisciplinary field, its history and its players. The seamlessly interwoven narrative is strong on big personalities, from astronomer Frank Drake, a pioneer of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) whose work is now overshadowed by glamorous finds in exoplanetary science, to astrophysicist Sara Seager, a scintillating star in that very field.”
– Nature journal
“Fascinating… A great outline of the subject, bringing what's often treated as science fiction down to Earth where it can be understood.”
“Exoplanet detection is space science’s hottest field, one which science writer Billings surveys here with exceptional clarity while peering over the shoulders of the planet hunters’ leading pioneers…a fascinating and informative read for both casual and serious astronomy buffs.”
“An up-to-date synopsis of the search for life elsewhere and the key people behind it.”
– NPR’s 13.7 blog
“Readers will find [Five Billion Years of Solitude] incredibly engaging…Billings has created a book that is not only entertaining, but educational as well.”
– Universe Today
“Billings uses deft descriptions and dazzling wordplay.”
– Inside Science
“In this elegant book, Billings writes with energy and brilliance about a big question, possibly the biggest of all: are we all alone in the universe or are there other forms of life out there somewhere? His portraits of the scientists in pursuit of answers to this timeless question are realized through the sharpest lens.”
—RICHARD PRESTON, author of THE HOT ZONE and THE WILD TREES
“Lee Billings has done something remarkable. He has not just written a deeply-researched account of the search for life beyond our solar system. He’s also captured the spirit of the search—the science-fiction-fueled dreams, the joy of discovering planets around other suns, the melancholy realization that our species may not have the long-range focus to complete this mission. The result is a beautiful, richly detailed study of what it means to be alone—for now—in the universe.”
—CARL ZIMMER, author of A PLANET OF VIRUSES and EVOLUTION
“Five Billion Years of Solitude is ‘awesome’ in that term’s strictest sense. This mind-blowing book has ideas like a greenhouse has orchids. Yet, at its somber core, this is an engaged meditation on intelligence in the universe—not just our intelligence, but anybody’s, anywhere, at any time.”
—BRUCE STERLING, author of SCHISMATRIX and VISIONARY IN RESIDENCE
“Billings imbues the quest for other Earths and other technological civilizations with an intimate immediacy that makes our planet and our lives seem all the more precious. From unruly telescopes to political machinations, from environmental degradation to broken friendships, he has seamlessly crafted a portrait that is not only about our looking to the stars but also the place from which we gaze.”
—CHRISTOPHER COKINOS, author of THE FALLEN SKY and HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
“Highly readable and richly contextual, Five Billion Years of Solitude illuminates the personalities behind an adventure of astronomical exploration in which thousands of worlds are being discovered almost overnight.”
—TIMOTHY FERRIS, author of COMING OF AGE IN THE MILKY WAY and THE SCIENCE OF LIBERTY
“To fully appreciate the quest to discover other Earths, you have to learn to understand this one afresh—not only its magnificent almost-five-billion-year history, but also its bureaucratic muddles, its petty rivalries, its personal triumphs and tragedies, and its endless potential for poetry. Lee Billings does all that, brilliantly.”
—OLIVER MORTON, author of EATING THE SUN and MAPPING MARS
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