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LEE BILLINGS is a 30-year-old science journalist. His articles on the science and policy behind breakthrough work in astronomy, planetary science, astrophysics, and cosmology have appeared in publications such as NatureNew ScientistPopular Mechanics, and Seed magazine. In February 2011, to coincide with the announcement of major discoveries from NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission, Lee was invited to contribute to BoingBoing.net. His blog posts over a two-week period accumulated around 350 on-site comments, delivered hundreds of thousands of page views, and spawned spin-off coverage in a host of other venues, including the Daily Mail, Wired Science, MSNBC.com, New Hampshire Public Radio, and NASA’s official Kepler homepage. From January 2006 to March 2011, Lee was a writer and editor for Seed magazine, where he produced content noted by outlets such as The New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post, and Slate.com. He lives in New York City.

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FIVE BILLION YEARS OF SOLITUDE

A Journey in Search of Living Worlds

 

Winner of the American Institute of Physics 2013 Science Writing Award for Books

 

Graceful... the best book I have read about exoplanets, and one of the few whose language approaches the grandeur of a quest that is practically as old as our genes – Dennis Overbye, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
 

Will leave readers who aren't rocket scientists slack-jawed – NEW YORK TIMES 'Newly Released' column


A definitive guide to astronomy’s hottest field –
THE ECONOMIST

This book is sweeping in scope, from the creation of the coal belts in Pennsylvania to the moving details of a single canoe trip across the Canadian wilderness. In these juxtapositions, Billings performs a brilliant sleight of hand... the ending is a poignant reminder that humankind may yet find a way to the stars, but people – the ones we know, the ones we love, the ones we lose — are our entire history and our full universe –
WASHINGTON POST
 
In his compelling, wide-ranging survey, Billings steps back to look at this broader picture, largely through richly textured portraits of some of the giants of the field... [an] extraordinary tale of scientific discovery –
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
 
Deftly captures both behind-the-scenes ructions and landmark discoveries in his tour of this multidisciplinary field, its history and its players. The seamlessly interwoven narrative is strong on big personalities
– NATURE

Fascinating... A great outline of the subject, bringing what's often treated as science fiction down to Earth where it can be understood
– KIRKUS REVIEWS
 
Exoplanet detection is space science's hottest field, one which science writer Billings surveys here with exceptional clarity while peering over the shoulders of the planet hunters' leading pioneers... a fascinating and informative read for both casual and serious astronomy buffs
–BOOKLIST

 

Incredibly engaging... Billings has created a book that is not only entertaining, but educational as well – UNIVERSE TODAY

 

Deft descriptions and dazzling wordplay – INSIDE SCIENCE


In this elegant book, Billings writes with energy and brilliance about a big question, possibly the biggest of all: are we all alone in the Universe or are there other forms of life out there somewhere? His portraits of the scientists in pursuit of answers to this timeless question are realized through the sharpest lens
– Richard Preston, author of THE HOT ZONE and THE WILD TREES

 

FIVE BILLION YEARS OF SOLITUDE doesn't just give us a history of the search for extraterrestrial life and intelligence. It doesn't just give us the latest science of exoplanet hunting. It does those things with admirable, engaging clarity, but Billings gives us more, imbuing the quest for other Earths and other technological civilizations with an intimate immediacy that makes our planet and our lives seem all the more precious. From unruly telescopes to political machinations, from environmental degradation to broken friendships, Billings has seamlessly crafted a portrait that is not only about our looking to the stars but also about the place from which we gaze – Christopher Cokinos, author of THE FALLEN SKY and HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS

 

'Awesome' in that term's strictest sense. This mind-blowing book has ideas like a greenhouse has orchids. Yet, at its somber core, this is an engaged meditation on intelligence in the Universe – not just our intelligence, but anybody's, anywhere, at any time – Bruce Sterling, Professor of Internet Studies, European Graduate School, author of TOMORROW NOW and VISIONARY IN RESIDENCE

 

To fully appreciate the quest to discover other Earths, you have to learn to understand this one afresh – not only its magnificent almost-five-billion-year history, but also its bureaucratic muddles, its petty rivalries, its personal triumphs and tragedies and its endless potential for poetry. Lee Billings does all that, brilliantly – Oliver Morton, author of MAPPING MARS and EATING THE SUN 

 

Lee Billings has done something remarkable. He has not just written a deeply researched account of the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. He’s also captured the spirit of the search – the science-fiction-fuelled dreams, the joy of discovering planets around other suns, the melancholy realization that our species may not have the long-range focus to complete this mission. The result is a beautiful, richly detailed study of what it means to be alone – for now – in the Universe – Carl Zimmer, author of A PLANET OF VIRUSES and EVOLUTION

 

For 4.6 billion years our living planet has been alone in a vast and silent universe. But soon, Earth’s isolation could come to an end.


Over the past two decades, astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Some of these exoplanets may be mirror images of our own world. And more are being found all the time.

Yet as the pace of discovery quickens, an answer to the universe's greatest riddle still remains just out of reach: is the great silence and emptiness of the cosmos a sign that we and our world are somehow singular, special, and profoundly alone, or does it just mean that we're looking for life in all the wrong places? As star-gazing scientists come closer to learning the truth, their insights are proving ever more crucial to understanding life's intricate mysteries and possibilities right here on Earth.

Science journalist Lee Billings explores the past and future of the 'exoplanet boom' through in-depth reporting and interviews with the astronomers and planetary scientists at its forefront. He recounts the stories behind their world-changing discoveries and captures the pivotal moments that drove them forward in their historic search for the first habitable planets beyond our solar system. Billings brings readers close to a wide range of fascinating characters, such as: Frank Drake, a pioneer who has used the world's greatest radio telescopes to conduct the first searches for extraterrestrial intelligence and to transmit a message to the stars so powerful that it briefly outshone our Sun; Jim Kasting, a mild-mannered former NASA scientist whose research into the Earth's atmosphere and climate reveals the deepest foundations of life on our planet, foretells the end of life on Earth in the distant future, and guides the planet hunters in their search for alien life; and Sara Seager, a visionary and iron-willed MIT professor who dreams of escaping the solar system and building the giant space telescopes required to discover and study life-bearing planets around hundreds of the Sun’s neighboring stars.

Through these and other captivating tales, Billings traces the triumphs, tragedies, and betrayals of the extraordinary men and women seeking life among the stars. In spite of insu cient funding, clashing opinions, and the failings of some of our world’s most prominent and powerful scientific organizations, these planet hunters will not rest until they find the meaning of life in the infinite depths of space. Billings emphasizes that the heroic quest for other Earth-like planets is not only a scientific pursuit, but also a reflection of our own culture’s timeless hopes and fears.

Publisher: Current/Penguin (US)

Date: 3 October 2013

Length: 304 pages

 

All rights available excluding:

World English Language (Penguin US), Dutch (Lannoo), Korea (Ermamama), Latin America (Planeta Mexico – Spanish), Russia (Piter), Turkey (Alfa Group)

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