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For the first time in Earth's history, our planet is experiencing a confluence of rapidly accelerating changes prompted by one species: humans. Climate change is only the most visible of the modifications we've made – up until this point, inadvertently – to the planet. And our current behaviour threatens not only our own future but that of countless other creatures. By comparing Earth's story to those of other planets, astrobiologist David Grinspoon shows what a strange and novel development it is for a species to evolve to build machines, and ultimately, global societies with world-shaping influence.
Without minimizing the challenges of the next century, Grinspoon suggests that our present moment is not only one of peril, but also great potential, especially when viewed from a 10,000-year perspective. Our species has surmounted the threat of extinction before, thanks to our innate ingenuity and ability to adapt, and there's every reason to believe we can do so again. Our challenge now is to awaken to our role as a force of planetary change, and to grow into this task. We must become graceful planetary engineers, conscious shapers of our environment and caretakers of Earth's biosphere. This is a perspective that begs us to ask not just what future do we want to avoid, but what do we seek to build? What kind of world do we want? Are humans the worst thing or the best thing to ever happen to our planet?
Today we stand at a pivotal juncture, and the answer will depend on the choices we make.
David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist, award-winning science communicator, and prize-winning author. In 2013 he was appointed the inaugural Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress. He is a frequent advisor to NASA on space exploration strategy, and is on the team for the Curiosity Mars Rover. Grinspoon's writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Scientific American, Seed, Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times.
"In his wonderful writing style, Dr. Grinspoon spells it out: A single species is inducing more profound changes to our planet than any other organism in geologic history. It's us. If you have family and friends here on Earth, read this book. The Earth is in our hands."
– Bill Nye "The Science Guy", New York Times bestselling author of Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World
"Earth in Human Hands is a page-turning masterpiece of speculative nonfiction that will keep new and veteran science aficionados spellbound for hours at a time. [...] Earth in Human Hands is Cosmos for the 21st century, retooled for a new wave of readers, and hopped up on the best science modern research has to offer. [...] Your copy of this masterpiece is destined to become a familiar friend, proudly dog-eared and creased with age, after being read and reread time after time, and year after year."
– Daily Kos
"In flavorful prose, [Grinspoon] dives deep into the history of life on Earth (and beyond) and muses on ways that geoengineering, interplanetary colonization or contact with galactic civilizations could define this human-dominated epoch just as much as climate change, overpopulation and resource scarcity [...] What comes next? This hybrid of a meditative memoir, a scientific primer and a call to arms presents possible answers."
– Scientific American
"Grinspoon's writing is clear, informal and funny [...] like a pub conversation with a well-read, quick mind."
"Earth in Human Hands is a remarkable synthesis of natural history, planetary science, extinction histories, Earth's climate and the human effect on the world [...] If we do it right, the 21st century won't be the peak of human achievement, but rather our initial foray into a brilliant, uncertain but full-of-potential future."
"Rarely is a science book profoundly informative, highly entertaining, and surprisingly filled with interesting tidbits as a memoir. Such is the case, however, from the new book Earth in Human Hands [...] This is a book that any thinking person will have been glad to read. One could hardly ask for more."
– Astronomy Magazine
"With an erudite yet appealingly informal style that showcases his nimble mastery of this science, Grinspoon takes you on a deep-time tour [...] In our hyper-technical world, we need science communicators like Grinspoon (and Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson) who can translate their expertise into accessible explanations and interesting stories. All complex topics have interesting stories; it takes a particular talent to unlock them [...] This is one of the great strengths of Earth in Human Hands: Grinspoon's ability to describe and explain momentous Earth and space events and discoveries, and then connect to their cultural and social influence; science as part of everyday life and our cultural history, not separate from it."
– NPR Boston
"David Grinspoon has done it again: cracked open our universe with a scientific inquiry that is as inspiring and engaging as it is profound. Where others see inevitable catastrophe, Grinspoon sees historic opportunity. Grinspoon is a gifted storyteller and his narrative is the rare confluence of authoritative and thought-provoking science and rollicking fun. Earth in Human Hands is a must read for anyone interested in evolution, planetary science, the crisis of the environment, and human survival. Destined to be a classic."
– Peter Heller, New York Times bestselling author of The Dog Stars and The Whale Warriors
"David Grinspoon's books are always high-spirited, insightful, elegantly-written, and full of fascinations, but Earth in Human Hands is especially so, because he focuses on our home planet and exciting/dangerous new age, criss-crossing the globe and traveling deep into the unknown reaches of space, where other lifeforms may be facing their own planetary challenges. I'm sure readers will love voyaging through the cosmos with him again, as I do."
– Diane Ackerman, New York Times bestselling author of The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us and The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
"A beautiful and detailed overview of the ways we must change our thinking if we want to truly understand the transformation in our midst."
– Adam Frank, NPR.com
"David Grinspoon is an entertaining and insightful writer, and he takes us through a delightful intellectual romp across the universe, through our solar system, witnessing Earth's evolution over geologic time. He gives us an astronomer's-eye view of our current global environmental crisis, helping us see our predicament through the lens of time and space, which gives us a far better perspective – especially on issues like climate change. I strongly recommend this book to folks who are scientifically curious, and to those who want to hear a different take on our current environmental challenges. You won't be disappointed."
– Jonathan Foley, Director, California Academy of Sciences
"In a moving, personal journey, Grinspoon takes the reader from molten, planetary origins, past current crises like climate change, toward a destiny that our children may yet forge, standing on our shoulders."
– David Brin, New York Times bestselling author of Earth and Existence
"Now that climate scientists have established beyond a reasonable doubt that man-made greenhouse gases play a major role in global warming, it's becoming transparently obvious that we humans are effectively behind the wheel, driving earth toward its ultimate fate, for good or ill. In the face of this stark reality, one question becomes equally clear: How do we as a species steer the planet in the right direction to save ourselves and our fellow creatures? An astrobiologist by training, as well as a frequent advisor to NASA on space exploration, Grinspoon is well-placed to provide a unique set of answers to this inquiry. In a work that's less an orderly guidebook than a series of thoughtful and fascinating discussions, Grinspoon uses his knowledge of planetary ecosystems and geological change to speculate on humankind's potential earthly influence over thousands of years, pointing out that Homo sapiens has faced extinction before. Although Grinspoon acknowledges the daunting challenges ahead, his message is ultimately an optimistic one, arguing that man's acute self-awareness and technological creativity will ultimately win out."
"An optimistic and informative take on the future of Earth and humankind."
– Publishers Weekly