"[A] masterful survey. - Times Literary Supplement
"[A] concise ... extremely well-written journey about this planet's history.... Highly recommended." - Choice
"In a feat that may rival time travel, Burger has condensed 4.5 billion years into 294 eminently readable pages as he builds a case for solitude in our Milky Way galaxy. [Burger] writes with the clarity and humor of one who has had experience communicating complicated ideas to the lay public."-Boston Globe
For many years the federal government funded the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), later popularized by Carl Sagan's novel Contact
and the movie starring Jodie Foster. Though in actuality SETI never did make contact with signals from an alien civilization, the search continues to this day through privately funded endeavors. How likely is it that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe? This is the intriguing question that has prompted William Burger's illuminating and absorbing exploration of the unusual circumstances surrounding life on earth.
Examining the critical episodes in our planet's early history and the peculiar trajectory of life on our world, Burger shows that the long odyssey of planet Earth may be utterly unique in our galaxy. For example, he describes features of the sun that are far from average. By some estimates, 95 percent of the other stars in the Milky Way galaxy are smaller, and it is unlikely that any of them could supply the energy requirements for a life-sustaining planet such as our own. Earth, as the third planet from the sun, sits within the "Goldilocks" orbit: it is in the perfect position to receive not too much heat (like Mercury and Venus) and not too little (like more distant planets of the solar system) but just the right amount to foster the development of life.
Turning to the evolution of life itself, Burger points out a host of amazing accidents (for example, the extinction of dinosaurs and the proliferation of flowering plants) that make the steps along the way to Homo sapiens seem like very rare events indeed. He also calls attention to the curious fact that the early hominid brain tripled in size over the relatively short time period leading to the appearance of modern human beings. Finally, he notes aspects of humanity's cultural evolution that seem unlikely to have been duplicated anywhere else.
Burger's enlightening evaluation of evolutionary and cosmic history, full of fascinating details, shows that the human achievement may be unique in our galaxy.
More Praise for Perfect Planet, Clever Species:
"This is by far the best existing treatment of the SETI problem. Based on the most recent findings of science, it analyzes in full detail all the unique factors that would have to be right for success. Particularly fascinating is Burger's critical study of the ten thousands of unpredictable steps in the evolution of Homo sapiens after the origin of life. A splendid history of mankind."
- Ernst Mayr, Harvard University
"I believe that this brilliant, richly documented and well-written book, on par in historical influence (or importance) with classics such as Rachel Carson's
Silent Spring, Paul Ehrlich's
The Population Bomb, E.O. Wilson's
On Human Nature or Sarah Blaffer's
Mother Nature, will go down as one of the most significant philosophical guides for us to follow as we stumble blindly into the 21st Century."
- Hugh H. Iltis, Emeritus Botany Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"With a lively narrative and at a headlong pace, Bill Burger leads us expertly from the origin of our planet through to the evolutionary history of humankind. Along the way, he repeatedly highlights the part played by chance occurrence of favourable conditions. Such contingency means that we can reconstruct our past but not predict our future. But we can address Burger's central question: 'Are we alone?' Soberingly, he builds up step-by-step to his conclusion.... The history of evolution on Earth is a compelling story in its own right and one that Burger recounts exceptionally well."
- Bob Martin, Vice President for Academic Affairs, The Field Museum, Chicago
"An engaging tour de force of life, the Universe and everything. Fast-paced and sweeping in scope, Perfect Planet,Clever Species overflows with fasincating detail and provocative insights."
- Professor Peter Crane, Director,Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Book Binding: Hardcover
Shipping Weight: 1lbs
William Burger (Chicago, IL) is Curator Emeritus of the Department of Botany at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.