Reviewed by Steve Canipe
Director, Science, Mathematics & Instructional Design Technology
Picking up this book, you might be tempted to think from the title that it was a science fiction novel. In a way you would be almost right. The way the narrative reads is story–like in its presentation, yet it is science. The book shows that truth may be more fascinating than fiction.
Writing in The Science Teacher, Charles Hill observed that stories allow a reader to absorb information in a natural way (Apr 2009). Berkowitz has perfected a way of drawing the reader into the science story of astrobiology through use of astro– prefixes combined with physics, chemistry, geology, and others. He is attempting to answer the old question "Where did we come from?" He is not necessarily seeking an answer for the origin of our whole self but certainly the constituent parts—like the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen from which we are mostly made.
Reading the book is like tracing the history of cosmic science. Berkowitz explains in a very clear way how discoveries piled on top of other discoveries, which inevitably led to more discoveries. He thus gives life to the idea that current science rests on the shoulders of previous scientific giants. There have been three revolutionary periods in the study of the skies and understanding our place in the cosmos. First was the earth–shaking realization of Copernicus that the Earth was not the center of everything. This happened in the 16th and 17th centuries. In a revolutionary observation in the 19th century, Charles Darwin gave rise to ideas about human evolution. Finally the third revolution, which is currently underway, links astrobiology with the previous two revolutions. Connections of the physical and biological worlds as explored in the book describe our place among the chemistry of the stars.
From "The Stardust Revolution" to "Darwin and the Cosmos" each chapter is enticing and brings new insights to the serious reader. There are nine chapters divided roughly into the three revolutionary periods. Each chapter is a complete study itself but taken together the book paints a clear picture of how our chemical being originated in the giant dust clouds of the Big Bang and afterwards.
A connection between us and possible alien life forms on far–flung exoplanets is shown as possible because we would be made of the same stardust stuff. Berkowitz, in describing his book, says it is much like the fable of the blind man and the elephant. "Each of the scientists held a part of a much larger puzzle, that only became evident when all the pieces are put together." Discoveries and observations of such diverse individuals as Fred Hoyle, Robert Bunsen, and George Hale are explored and connected for the reader to contemplate. Biochemical research from individuals such as Oparin, Urey, and Miller tie the living to the physical. Oparin is named as the first astrobiologist.
This book could be used as a supplemental text but is probably better suited as a book that is read by students and teachers who have a particular interest in learning more about the origins of the universe and ourselves. The narrative successfully ties together disparate specialties and makes the story come alive. A great read and it should certainly be a part of a well–read science teacher, scientist, or serious advanced high school or college science student who is interested in going beyond the traditional areas of science study. The intricacies of the story are made clear and in piecing them together the book is outstanding. Best of all, the book remains interesting from page one through page 308; then come 40 pages of notes and 25 pages of detailed index for the serious student. This is a volume well worth the investment to read.
Review posted on 11/29/2012