Rare Earth

Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe


" ... brilliant and courageous . . . likely to cause a revolution in thinking."

The New York Times "Science Times"

"A pleasure for the rational reader . . . what good books are all about ... "

—Associated Press

"If Ward and Brownlee are right it could be time to reverse a process that has been going on since Copernicus."

"Although simple life is probably abundant in the universe, Ward & Brownlee say, 'complex life—animals and higher plants—is likely to be far more rare than is commonly assumed'."

—Scientific American, Editor's Choice

" ... a compelling argument [and] a wet blanket for E.T. enthusiasts ... "


"Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee offer a powerful argument . . . ."

—The Economist

"[Rare Earth] has hit the world of astrobiologists like a killer asteroid . . . ."


"A very good book."


The notion that life existed anywhere in the universe besides Earth was once laughable in the scientific community. Over the past thirty years or so, the laughter has died away ... . [Ward and Brownlee] argue that the recent trend in scientific thought has gone too far . . . . As radio telescopes sweep the skies and earth-bound researchers strain to pick up anything that might be a signal from extraterrestrial beings, Rare Earth may offer an explanation for why we haven't heard anything yet."

—CNN.com a sobering and valuable perspective ... "


"Movies and television give the (optimistic) impression that the cosmos is teeming with civilizations. But what if it isn't? . . . Life elsewhere in the universe may never reach beyond microbes, which, the authors note, could be much more widespread than originally believed."

"It's brilliant . . . courageous. . . . It's rare in literature and science that a stance goes so far against the grain."

—Dr. Geoffrey W. Marcy Extra-solar planet discoverer University of California at Berkeley

"It's a thought that grips most everyone who stares into the unfathomable depths of a star-speckled night: Is there anybody out there? The odds, say Peter Ward and Don Brownlee, are probably more remote than you think."

—The Seattle Times

"Alien life is more likely to resemble the stuff you scrub off the tiles in your shower than Klingons, Wookies or Romulans, say Ward and Brownlee."

—Popular Mechanics

"Ward and Brownlee have taken an issue that is much in the public domain and treated it thoughtfully and thoroughly, but with a lightness of touch that draws the reader on Rare Earth is an excellent book for both specialists and non-specialists."

—The Times Higher Education Supplement (UK)

"A provocative, significant, and sweeping new book . . . Rare Earth is a fast-paced, thought-provoking read that I gobbled like popcorn. It's one of those rare books that is at once delightful, informative, and important: an end-of-the-millennium synthesis of science that tackles the central question of our past, place, and destiny."

—Northwest Science & Technology

" ... well thought out and intriguing ... "

" ... a startling new hypothesis . . . Highly recommended."

—Library Journal

"Rare Earth will surely appeal to those who would dare to disagree with icons Carl Sagan and George Lucas."

—San Gabriel Valley Tribune a timely, entirely readable account."

—Toronto Globe & Mail

" ... a stellar example of clear writing ... " —American Scientist

" ... thought-provoking and authoritative ... " —Physics Today

"In this encouraging and superbly written book, the authors present a carefully reasoned and scientifically statute examination of the age-old question—'Are we alone in the universe?' Their astonishing conclusion that even simple animal life is most likely extremely rare in the universe has many profound implications. To the average person, staring up at a dark night sky, full of distant galaxies, it is simply inconceivable that we are alone. Yet, in spite of our wishful thinking, there just may not be other Mozarts or Monets."

—Don Johanson

Director, Institute of Human Origins Arizona State University

"A fabulous book! If we're to believe what we see in the movies, extraterrestrials thrive on every world. But this unique book, written by two of the top scientists in the field, tells a different story. As we know it on Earth, complex life might be very rare, and very precious. For those of us interested in our cosmic heritage, this book is a must-read."

Co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy

"Ward and Brownlee take us on a fascinating journey through the deep history of our habitable planet and out into space,- in the process they weave a compelling argument that life at the level of an animal should be vastly rarer in the universe than life at the level of a lowly bacterium."

Author of Children of the Ice Age and Earth and Life Through Time The Johns Hopkins University

"Microbial life is common in the universe, but multicellular animal life is rare. A controversial thesis, but one that is well-researched and well-defended. A must-read for anyone who is interested in whether life exists beyond Earth." —James Kasting

Pennsylvania State University

Rafted ice covering the subterranean ocean of Europa (moon of planet Jupiter), a possible life habitat in the outer solar system. NASA image from the Galileo spacecraft. Courtesy of NASA.

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