cover image Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth

Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth

Robert Shapiro. John Wiley & Sons, $27.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-471-17936-8

Controversy rages in scientific circles over where next we should search for life in our solar system. Some argue that Mars is still the likeliest place to harbor life, despite the maddeningly inconclusive results to date, while others advocate probing the moons of Jupiter. Shapiro (Life Beyond Earth, etc.) uses his background in biochemistry to ponder the possibility that life exists on other worlds and to posit the best places to find it. He presents a convincing case that bizarre creatures may be found in the ammonia clouds swirling around Jupiter or high in the noxious sulfuric acid clouds that choke Venus. Going further than most authors in the field, Shapiro examines the possibility of life forms not dependent on oxygen and water. Unfortunately, his book isn't as well organized or as rigorous as some other recent books on the subject, such as John Lewis's Worlds Without End (1998). Shapiro dawdles through three introductory chapters before getting down to the substance of his book, and many of his digressions into fantasy scenarios and discussions of creation science add little to his argument. At times, though, Shapiro's teaching skills shine through; his use of imaginary scale models to explain distances, for example, conveys superbly the almost unimaginable vastness of space. 8-page color insert. Agent, Katinka Matson. (Apr.)