Astrobiology Reading list

Recommended Astrobiology Books

Astrobiology: Understanding the Universe:

author: Charles Cockell

mini-review: This comprehensive textbook targeted at undergraduates is thoughtful, complete, and a pleasure to read. It covers the basics of chemistry, biology, physics, and geology necessary to understand the evolution of life on Earth, the implications of major geological events on life, and the importance of studying life in extreme environments. Armed with this knowledge, Cockell then takes us to real astrobiological territory with thorough chapters on habitability, exoplanets, SETI, among others, and ends with a reflection on our own civilization. I particularly enjoyed focus points on existing astrobiologists, and debates. A highly recommended book for any astrobiology enthusiast and student - Sanjoy Som

Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction:

author: David Catling

mini-review: This tiny book that fits in a jeans back pocket is very readable and provides a quick overview of astrobiology. Catling writes in a very conversational tone and is very good at avoiding jargon, or explaining it when needed. - Sanjoy Som


Life in the Universe (2nd and 3rd editions)

author: Jeffrey O. Bennett and Seth Shostak

mini-review: I liked these books as primers to astrobiology. They cover the basics of various scientific fields involved in astrobiology (biology, geology, etc) in an fun-to-read way and tie them all into the search for life. It’s an expensive book so I would recommend checking it out from a library or buying it as a reference guide. - Mrina Nikrad


Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe

author: Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee

mini-review: This book explores the origins of life on Earth and the reasoning for finding microbial life on other planets. - Mrina Nikrad


How to Build a Habitable Planet

author: Charles Langmuir and Wally Broeker

mini-review: This book was first published in 1985 and is still, in my mind, the definitive work on the subject for scientists and lay people alike.  It’s a true classic.  The most recent version was published in (I think) 2012, so the material is up-to-date.  Warning… the book will NOT fit in your back pocket, unless you opt for the kindle version. - Jeff Bowman


How to Find a Habitable Planet

author: James Kasting

mini-review: This book is written by one of the pioneers of the concept of the “habitable zone” and describes the search for inhabited planets through the lens of Earth’s climate history. Slightly technical and reference laden in places, this is great for students of astrobiology, but most of the book is accessible to a general audience. -Jacob Haqq-Misra


Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life

author: David Grinspoon

mini-review: Grinspoon takes the reader on a journey through the history of thought on life elsewhere. With candor and humor, he examines a range of the various methods humans have sought after alien life, and he offers some of his own ideas for what might be out there. - Jacob Haqq-Misra


The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

author: Jacob Berkowitz

mini-review: This book provides a scientific and historical overview of nucleosynthesis--the origin of all matter in the nuclear furnace of stars. An enjoyable read with loads of novel historical tidbits, this is suitable for all audiences and requires no formal knowledge of astronomy. - Jacob Haqq-Misra


Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology

authors: Woodruff Sullivan and John Baross (editors)

mini-review: This textbook provides a complete overview of all major aspects of astrobiology, from its historical origins to its practice today. Great for astrobiology students and enthusiasts alike. - Jacob Haqq-Misra


Here be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extraterrestrial Life

authors: David Koerner and Simon Levay

mini-review: I've read this book some time ago and it is one that left a very good impression on me, with its accessible language describing the most important topics of astrobiology. It has a section in the middle of the book with nice color photos and diagrams. Ivan G. Paulino-Lima


Life on the Edge: Amazing creatures thriving in extreme environments

author: Michael Gross

mini review: This is more focused on biology but the last chapter brings a nice discussion on "Life Beyond Earth". It has useful endnotes and updates at the end of each chapter. Ivan G. Paulino-Lima


Life in the Universe: Expectations and Constraints

authors: Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Louis N. Irwin

mini-review: This is also focused on biology and brings a detailed discussion on the origins and definitions of life, as well as alternative biochemistries. Ivan G. Paulino-Lima


The search for Life on Other Planets

author: Bruce Jakosky

mini-review: This is an excellent overview about the search for life in the solar system and on exoplanets. Photos, images and illustrations are helpful and inspiring. Ivan G. Paulino-Lima


Life on other worlds: The 20th-century extraterrestrial life debate

author: Steven J. Dick

mini-review: This book brings a very good discussion about the history and philosophy of astrobiology. I see this one as a seminal work on the field. The author is currently the second chairholder of the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Kluge Center. (The first chairholder was David Grinspoon). Ivan G. Paulino-Lima


Revolutions that made the Earth:

author: Tim Lenton and Andrew Watson

mini-review: This book straddles the line between popular science and textbook quite well, with full references to the literature and “boxes” with more detailed mathematical treatments, and is highly recommended to a “scientifically-minded” general audience.  It is a comprehensive overview of the interplay between the planet Earth and the life upon it. The science is interesting if not a bit heavily weighted towards the authors own work. In particular there are nice discussions of Gaia from two former students of Jim Lovelocks - with Tim’s strong advocacy of Gaia balanced nicely by Andy’s more moderate discussions, as well as interesting thoughts about the Anthropocene and the future of humanity viewed through the lens of Earth history and the revolutions that have brought us to the current moment. Mark Claire

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