Perfect planet, clever species

Field Museum books explores chances of life elsewhere in the Milky Way and what makes life on Earth so special

CHICAGO--Life in outer space. Evolution. Warfare. Spirituality.

These are some of the topics Field Museum Curator Bill Burger tackles in Perfect Planet, Clever Species, a "romp through the history of the universe."

"[Burger] writes with the clarity and humor of one who has had experience communicating complicated ideas to the lay public," says the Boston Globe.

The book argues that there is probably life elsewhere in the Milky Way, but something more like "green slop" than intelligent life. We are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, Burger says, because we are the beneficiaries of a long series of improbable events and conditions that could never have occurred elsewhere. These include:

  • a long-lived star
  • a stabilizing moon
  • plate tectonics
  • the tilt of the earth
  • the existence of heavy metallic elements
  • flowering plants, etc.

This incredibly unlikely series of conditions have combined to allow life to form, evolution to occur, and civilization to flourish.

Even warfare is a sign of our special status and related to our successes, Burger says. The human brain grew and developed because of an "arms race" within the human race. In other words, our relatively large, complex brain developed because of a need to outfight other species and fellow homo sapiens.

The book is published by Prometheus Books.

- Peter Crane at the Royal Botanic Gardens calls it "an engaging tour do force of life, the universe and everything...overflowing with fascinating detail and provocative insights."

- Hugh Iltis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison writes, "I believe that this brilliant, richly documented, and well-written book--on par in historical importance with classics such as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Paul Ehrlich's The P

Contact: Greg Borzo
Field Museum

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