Book reviews

‘The Equations of Life: The Hidden Rules Shaping Evolution’ by Charles Cockell

Posted by on Nov 20, 2018 in Book reviews | 0 comments

Charles Cockell opens this book with a picture of a small, blind bundle of subterranean fluff (a.k.a., a Lesser Mole Rat), with the simple caption P = F / A, and for approximately half the book, no explanation of why. At its core, this is a book of formula of the biological. How do the principles of physics govern all life? What are the mathematical formulae that dictate evolutionary pathways? If we understand these principles, do we then understand why Lesser Mole Rats are the way that they are? For a popular science book, this book is very brave. In the acknowledgements to ‘A Brief History...

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‘Deep Life: The Hunt for the Hidden Biology of Earth, Mars, and Beyond’ by Tullis C. Onstott

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Book reviews | 0 comments

Deep Life is an account of the rise of the field of geobiology from a barely considered pseudoscience in the early 20th century to the keystone of astrobiology it is today. Professor Onstott was there for the majority of this journey, and his perspective on these events gives a fascinating insight into the makings of the field we know today. The first-person perspective is often a blessing, with Onstott’s passion for his subject coming across wonderfully in his writing. On the other hand it can sometimes be limiting, with the adoption of a strict chronological narrative meaning that subjects...

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‘Nobody Owns the Moon’ by Tony Milligan

Posted by on Jan 23, 2017 in Book reviews | 0 comments

Is the exploration of space justified by our natural wanderlust? Are we morally obliged to terraform other planets in order to avert stagnation or extinction on Earth? Should we worry about the socio-economic consequences of asteroid mining, or the aesthetic damage done by the extraction of Helium-3 from the moon? Such questions have vexed sci-fi writers and space scientists for decades, but the apparent imminence of a new space age powered by private enterprise has given them fresh urgency. Tony Milligan, an ethicist at King’s College, London, is one of the many philosophers and social...

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‘Planetary Rovers: Robotic Exploration of the Solar System’ by Alex Ellery

Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Book reviews | 0 comments

Springer (Jan 2016); Hardback; £117 In the Preface, the author writes, “…The target audience for this book is anyone who requires an intimate and detailed knowledge of planetary rovers and how they are likely to evolve in their capabilities in the near future.” And this is exactly what the book delivers; an awesome breadth and depth of knowledge into a technology that enables human exploration of other planets. The reader is introduced to the role of Macro-Rovers (>100 kg), Mini-Rovers (50 – 100 kg), Micro-Rovers (10 – 50 kg) and tethered Nano-Rovers all of which need to operate in extreme...

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‘Goldilocks and the Water Bears’ by Louisa Preston

Posted by on Oct 11, 2016 in Book reviews | 0 comments

A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales. Marie Curie’s quote offers an apropos guide for Dr Louisa Preston’s book. In Goldilocks and the Water Bears, astrobiologist and planetary geologist Preston tackles the science of astrobiology, a science that “has yet to prove its subject matter exists”. Us ing the latest discoveries, Preston takes readers on a lively tour of the search for life in the Universe, its many potential forms, and the challenge for its detection in the Solar...

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‘Earth: Evolution of a Habitable World’ (2nd Edition) by Jonathan I. Lunine, Cambridge University Press (2013)

Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Book reviews | 0 comments

I naively obtained this large, beautiful book thinking I was going to read a story of the Earth’s history. In fact, it is – probably more usefully – a story of methods and measurements. We begin with the basics of the Earth in space, the scale of the universe, magnetism and light: with every step, Lunine takes us through how we know about each of these, who discovered them and when. We go on to use science from many different disciplines to study Earth’s history: the atomic structures of amino acids; radioactivity and isotopes; the histories of other planets and moons in the Solar System;...

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