David C Catling
Oxford University Press
2013 | 141pp | £7.99
Reviewed by Sophie Nixon
takes the reader on an engaging journey through astrobiology in this new addition to the Very short introduction
series. The author is especially qualified to write such an introduction, having taught the subject at the University of Washington, Seattle, for numerous years and being well acquainted with astrobiology research internationally.
The book covers all areas of the subject, from the difficulties of defining life, to the search for Earth-like planets. Complicated issues, such as the biochemistry of life, are covered in a concise yet unpatronising manner that makes this book very readable.
The journey starts with an introduction to the subject, its history and definitions. The reader is then taken into space to understand the origins of our solar system, the planet Earth and life itself, before tackling some of the nitty gritty biochemistry common to all life on Earth. The focus then shifts to the search for habitable environments elsewhere in our universe, with a contemplative final thought on whether life on Earth is a one-off.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on life in our solar system, in which the author gives a longer list of planetary bodies that may carry life than the typical handful, and with compelling reasoning. My only criticism is that this book is aimed at someone already acquainted with the basic concepts of life and planetary science. I struggle to see someone without a science background enjoying it as much as I have.
But for those who do, this book is highly recommended.