cover image Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Jim Al-Khalili. Picador, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-10963-7

British theoretical physicist Al-Khalili collects a wide array of easily digestible, information-packed essays from researchers writing on various aspects of the search for extraterrestrial life. Collectively, they approach the topic from all conceivable angles. For example, Monica Grady surveys “The Search for Life on Mars,” Ian Stewart covers “Aliens in Science Fiction Writing,” Dallas Campbell and Chris French discuss sightings and encounters, and Nick Lane investigates “How Life Got Started on Earth.” The information, which may be unfamiliar to many, is presented clearly and matter-of-factly. The authors pose both physical and philosophical questions, often answering them differently or from different perspectives across essays grouped loosely by theme. All this information certainly sparks the imagination, but this collection is unquestionably scientific, and much of its mind-bending effect is due to corrections of common misconceptions. The resulting picture of the complexities of current thought on extraterrestrial life illuminates just how much we still have to discover and just how comfortable we are considering our own natures and the possibility of encountering life that we may not understand. Al-Khalili’s collection is efficient and factual but never dry; it’s an excellent primer on various concepts and aspects of potential alien life, and the consequences of such an earth-shattering discovery. (May)