Is Earth Exceptional?

The Quest for Cosmic Life

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By Dr. Mario Livio, Ph.D.

By Dr. Jack Szostak, Ph.D.

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A New York Times–bestselling astrophysicist and a Nobel laureate describe the quest to discover how and where the universe breathed life into matter 

For a long time, scientists have wondered how life has emerged from inanimate chemistry, and whether Earth is the only place where it exists. Charles Darwin speculated about life on Earth beginning in a warm little pond. Some of his contemporaries believed that life existed on Mars. It once seemed inevitable that the truth would be known by now. 
It is not. For more than a century, the origins and extent of life have remained shrouded in mystery. But, as Mario Livio and Jack Szostak reveal in Is Earth Exceptional?, the veil is finally lifting. The authors describe how life’s building blocks—from RNA to amino acids and cells—could have emerged from the chaos of Earth’s early existence. They then apply the knowledge gathered from cutting-edge research across the sciences to the search for life in the cosmos: both life as we know it and life as we don’t. 
Why and where life exists are two of the biggest unsolved problems in science. Is Earth Exceptional? is the ultimate exploration of the question of whether life is a freak accident or a chemical imperative. 
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  • "Livio and Szostak adeptly describe how astrophysics, geology and chemistry may have collided on the primordial Earth to spark life. Provocative and thoughtful, they tackle the age-old question, ‘Is there life in the Universe beyond Earth?’ You’ll need to read the book to find the answer.”
    Thomas R. Cech, Nobel Laureate and author of The Catalyst
  • "A mind-blowing ramble through the RNA world and beyond, that confronts the ultimate challenge for the origins of life: are we alone in the Universe?"
    Joseph Silk, author of Back to the Moon: The Next Giant Leap for Humankind
  • "Is Earth Exceptional? connects current research about two questions, 'Is life out there?' and 'How did life start here?' to where they meet in the middle in a way that is exciting and accessible. This is the biggest human quest, to understand our place in the Universe.  I highly recommend this is exceptional."

    Adam Riess, Nobel Laureate and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins

On Sale
Sep 10, 2024
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Dr. Mario Livio, Ph.D.

About the Author

Mario Livio is an astrophysicist who worked with the Hubble Space Telescope and a bestselling author of seven books, including The Golden Ratio and Brilliant Blunders. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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Dr. Jack Szostak, Ph.D.

About the Author

Jack Szostak is a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, leading the Center for the Origin of Life. He shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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