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Book Reviews


Searching For Extraterrestrial Intelligence: SETI Past, Present and Future

Editor: H Paul Shuch

Publisher: Springer–Praxis

ISBN:978-3-642-13195-0

Price: £53.95 (Hb) 538pp


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Among the books on my desk at home is a copy of Iosif Shklovskii and Carl Sagan’s Intelligent Life in the Universe, which was the first ever popular science book published about SETI, in 1966. It is fascinating to see how much has changed, and how much hasn’t changed, with the arrival of this hefty tome nearly half a century later. Edited by the SETI League’s H Paul Shuch, SETI: Past Present and Future features essays, articles and technical treatises from 26 experts in the field, including the SETI Institute’s Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak, former head of NASA’s SETI programme John Billingham, astronomer Claudio Maccone, science fiction writers David Brin and Stephen Baxter, anthropologist Kathryn Denning, and many others.

The book is split into three sections: ‘The Spirit of SETI Past’, ‘The Spirit of SETI Present’ and ‘The Spirit of SETI Future’. A few of the chapters are highly technical and mathematical, but the vast majority are accessible to the intelligent layman. As Shuch says in his preface, “We, the authors, invite you to seek your own level of comfort, and then to challenge yourself, to reach beyond it.”

Some chapters have been published elsewhere, but most are new (to this reviewer). The best chapters include overviews of Project Cyclops and the mystery of the ‘Wow!’ signal by the man who discovered it; excellent pieces about the SETI League’s Project Argus and how amateurs can create their own network of radio telescopes; a remarkable history of SETI at NASA by John Billingham; controversial (to some) passages by Alexander Zaitsev on messaging extraterrestrial civilisations; cultural aspects on SETI by Shostak, Denning and Brin; and a delightful surprise in the final pages with a lost letter by one of the founding fathers of the field, the late Philip Morrison.

It’s pricey, but if you have a serious interest in SETI, this book provides the wide, eye-opening overview that other books lack. A must buy.

Keith Cooper

 

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