Insightful, good-humoured essays on the possibilities of alien life and the uses of space exploration, based on an astrobiologist's everyday conversations with his fellow humans – taxi drivers, to be precise.
If you've ever sat in the back seat of a taxi, you know that cabbies like to talk. Sports or politics, your job or theirs, taxi drivers are fine conversationalists on just about any topic. And when the passenger is astrobiologist Charles Cockell, that topic is usually space and what, if anything, lives out there.
Inspired by conversations with drivers all over the world, Taxi from Another Planet tackles the questions that everyday people have about the cosmos and our place in it. Will we understand aliens? What if there isn't life out in the universe? Is Mars our Plan B? And why is the government spending tax dollars on space programs anyway? Each essay in this genial collection takes questions like these as a starting point on the way to a range of insightful, even poignant, observations. Cockell delves into debates over the inevitability of life and looks to both human history and scientific knowledge to consider what first contact will be like and what we can expect from spacefaring societies. He also offers a forceful argument for the sympathies between space exploration and environmentalism.
A shrewd and entertaining foray into the most fundamental mysteries, Taxi from Another Planet brings together the wisdom of scientific experts and their fellow citizens of Earth, the better to understand how life might unfold elsewhere.
1. Are There Alien Taxi Drivers?
2. Would Alien Contact Change Us All?
3. Should I Be Worried about a Martian Invasion?
4. Should We Solve Problems on Earth before Exploring Space?
5. Will I Go on a Trip to Mars?
6. Is There Still Glory in Exploration?
7. Is Mars Our Planet B?
8. Do Ghosts Exist?
9. Are We Exhibits in an Alien Zoo?
10. Will We Understand the Aliens?
11. Might the Universe Be Devoid of Aliens?
12. Is Mars an Awful Place to Live?
13. Will Space Be Full of Tyrannies or Free Societies?
14. Do Microbes Deserve Our Protection?
15. How Did Life Begin?
16. Why Do We Need Oxygen to Breathe?
17. What Is the Meaning of Life?
18. Are We Exceptional?
Charles Cockell is a Professor of Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh and a former NASA and British Antarctic Survey scientist. A fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Explorers Club of New York, he is an advisor to NASA’s Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES) and leads the Life Beyond project in prisons.
"Timely [...] Cockell makes us consider a gamut of new possibilities that boggle the mind."
– Bruce Dorminey, Forbes
"The single most interesting space book I've seen this year [...] I remain very grateful for Taxi from Another Planet, a book I will be returning to and recommending to others."
– John Wilson, National Review
"While Cockell gives an insider, science-based understanding of space and its exploration, he's not shy in offering his opinions, such as there being no Planet B to flee to after we finish wreaking havoc on this one. Far from being at odds, he persuasively argues, environmentalism at home and exploration in space are natural allies working to understand and protect biological life."
– Adrienne Ross Scanlan, New York Journal of Books
"Cockell gives readers a good, basic (and easy-to-understand) refresher course on life on Earth as he prepares to discuss life outside Earth [...] While this is surely a book for adults, older teens who study the skies and make plans for a home on the moon will appreciate it as well."
– Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Daily News [Galveston, TX]
"An interesting and humorous approach to questions about the universe with relatively in-depth subject exploration."
– Library Journal
"Conversations with cab drivers lead to discussions about space exploration in this fun outing from astrobiologist Cockell [...] He does a great job blending cutting-edge science with philosophical considerations. This is a joy to read."
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"From human societies on Mars to cosmic microbes and alien worlds, this superbly intelligent, erudite book offers an intoxicating look at how the cutting edge of scientific thought on life's status in the universe connects to all of us. Faced with the fascinating questions of taxi drivers from around the world, Cockell is a convivial and inspiring passenger."
– Caleb Scharf, author of The Ascent of Information
"Most astronomers find it hard to respond to questions from the public without lapsing into jargon or technicalities, but Charles Cockell is a natural communicator. Taxi from Another Planet conveys an array of ideas – all fascinating, and some profound – with a light touch and utter clarity. Accessible to anyone curious about the cosmos."
– Martin Rees, coauthor of The End of Astronauts
"In this unique book, Cockell takes us on a journey through astrobiology – one taxi ride at a time. Combining scientific inquiries with personal stories, Taxi from Another Planet is a fascinating conversation starter."
– Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute, Cornell University
"Cab drivers spend mere minutes with their passengers, which motivates them to ask riders only the interesting questions: Could Martians be dangerous? Will talking to aliens be more enlightening than talking to a dog? Cockell's answers from the backseat are clear and delightfully phrased in this informative and thoroughly entertaining book."
– Seth Shostak, author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter
"The ever curious and creative mind of Charles Cockell takes us on a ride that is both whimsical and thoroughly insightful. Science, society, and history are woven together throughout this delightful book, resembling the many intertwining streets of Cockell's journeys, and ours."
– Kevin Peter Hand, author of Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space