Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Light of the Stars is science at the grandest of scales, and it tells a radically new story about what we are: one world in a universe awash in planets. Building on his widely discussed scientific papers and New York Times op-eds, astrophysicist Adam Frank shows that not only is it likely that alien civilizations have existed many times before, but also that many of them have driven their own worlds into dangerous eras of change.
He explains how dust storms on Mars, the greenhouse effect on Venus, Gaia Theory, the threat of nuclear winter, and efforts to prove or disprove the plurality of worlds from Aristotle to Copernicus to Carl Sagan have contributed to our understanding of our place in the universe and the growing challenge of climate change. And he raises what may be the largest question of all: If there has been life on other worlds, what can its presence tell us about our own fate?
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|Listening Length||7 hours and 15 minutes|
|Audible.com Release Date||June 12, 2018|
|Publisher||HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #99,169 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#124 in Astronomy (Audible Books & Originals)
#305 in Physics (Audible Books & Originals)
#640 in Astrophysics & Space Science (Books)
Top reviews from the United States
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In the book, Adam starts us off by summarizing our current civilization in a historical context and how it ties so closely to the Earth's biosphere. He goes on to share insights from other scientists on why we feel the need to search for life and civilization elsewhere in the cosmos. This leads quickly to describing our civilization's exoplanet hunting achievements and how we came about acquiring the tools and techniques that are employed today by astronomers, and some futuristic tools and techniques in development. Scientists mentioned include Jill Tarter and many others I've read about before, so it was good to see their names in this book.
What Adam does exceptionally well is tell the stories of these scientists from a personal viewpoint, especially if he happened to have met the scientist in person. He accomplishes this without spending an overt amount of time on them either, moving along at the right pace to the next topic at-hand. I found this part of the book to be extremely engaging because it showed how the hard work of generations of scientists can lead us to achieve new heights on the ladder of technological advancement in all fields. Focusing on astrophysics, astrobiology, exoplanets, and a healthy dose of history, Adam reveals how we came about detecting exoplanets through presented works of See, Borucki, Tarter, Drake, and others.
Since the book focuses on Earth and how a civilization might be sustained in the long-term, Adam carefully points out the issues that led to the current desiccated conditions of Mars and Venus, which provide valuable lessons for the future of Earth sustaining life and civilization. He goes into detail on our planet's current biosphere state known as the Anthropocene epoch - a period in Earth's history where human induced changes to our planet are calling into question the long-term sustainability of our civilization, and indeed, most of present life itself. He also points out that while humans are causing climate change, a planet is itself going to cause this over time as well.
Change is inevitable is another underlying theme of the book. There are some compelling explanations about how a planet, as well as both its life and eventual civilization(s), co-exist and can change, support, and even destroy each other through natural processes. Adam describes how the success of a planet's life and civilizations are dependent on initial starting conditions of its atmosphere and water content, and the present position of the planet in the star's habitable zone with its level of greenhouse gases. This is a key 'big picture view' that is not usually presented in astrophysics or astrobiology books or papers, but often instead as separate topics or footnotes. Adam excels at providing the needed big picture view, much like how I try to do the same in my books about similar subjects.
Adam also spends a good deal of time exploring the Drake Equation and how it ties into The Fermi Paradox and The Great Filter, important topics to understand the chance of life and civilization existing elsewhere in the universe, as well as how long that life and those civilizations may typically last technologically (at least in a way that's detectable). There is clear recognition in the book that the project of civilization has limitations to likely all attempts made to build it. Adam strongly infers that one answer to The Fermi Paradox and The Great Filter is that all civilizations simply do not last long enough to make a significant long-lasting mark on their host galaxy before being destroyed or set back technologically (either through natural causes or through their own devices).
While I have a far more optimistic estimate of the number of civilizations in existence at any given moment (roughly 1 per galaxy on average), I still accept the pessimistic viewpoint that the immensely complex project of civilization is just too sensitive to nature's instabilities to survive for very long (200 years for radio communication capable civilizations, or above, as a median estimate for civilizations that are at least able to reach beyond the stone age at some point in their history). I would like to also add here the tantalizing thought that there are perhaps countless more planets with simple lifeforms only, or even intelligent lifeforms forever trapped on their waterworlds and unable to escape due to lack of materials to build a civilization, or trapped by their super-Earth's immense gravity well. Adam touches on a few of these ideas through quotes by other scientists.
Related to use of materials and energy to build a civilization, Adam appears to be cautious about us taking the Kardashev scale so literally with its focus on energy consumption when coming to any conclusions about the actual power and reach of extraterrestrial civilizations. He's right to do so. The scale is in my view an unrealistic and likely inaccurate gauge for the rise and peak of a civilization, for all the points he lay out so well. It's not to say the scale is not useful, as it has its place just like the Drake Equation, but like Adam says in the book - "... it is not simply energy consumption (the focus of The Kardashev Scale) that must be considered. Instead, we must learn to think in terms of energy transformations."
Recognizing the limitations of energy use and simple physical limitations that all civilizations must adhere too will ensure we have a realistic and sound expectation for what we end up finding (or not finding) out there in the cosmos, and our likely future here on Earth.
Much of the above comments reveal a sad and lonely, and definitely pessimistic, but perhaps realistic viewpoint - a viewpoint that Adam infuses in the book so well and draws you right in to wanting to learn more about the realities of our existence in the universe.
An excellent read Adam, thank you.
For example, one reviewer panned the book because he thought the author stated the Drake equation incorrectly. Actually the author provides a precise and understandable explanation of every term in the Drake equation and it is exactly the set of terms in the original Drake equation. I am guessing the reader thought it was incorrect because the author did not use exactly the same symbols and subscripts as the original equation. The reason I say that reader must not have read the book carefully is that the author goes on and as a major point of the book reformulates the Drake equation to lump parameters in a way that allows one to set a “pessimism” threshold that can be used to mathematically distinguish a level of pessimism required to say how likely life and or civilizations are to have ever arisen elsewhere in the universe. So not only is the author’s statement of the Drake equation correct, he actually uses it in a way to further enlighten our understanding of the meaning of the terms.
Another review took issue with the classification of civilizations by their level of ability to harness energy at the planet, solar system, galaxy, etc. level and attributed this classification to the author. But this classification is actually proposed by someone else and a major part of this book is to propose a different classification that better reflects the evolution of a wholistic system that supports civilization and it sustainablity. So again, the reader’s criticism is misplaced and reflects the fact that they either did not read the book in its entirety or did not understand it.
This book’s unique contribution is that it can help inform and shift the argument about climate change. It provides insights into the climate changes that have occurred in the past and is informed by our observations of other planets and systems. The fundamental questions posed in the book are: what conditions are needed for a civilization to arise; how common are these conditions in the universe; how sustainable are they? It firmly puts us in the drivers seat - but does not tell us what to do. That is our choice.